Discrimination By The Slice At Papa John’s

by Kevin Burton

   Papa John’s Pizza is being sued by the federal government for employment discrimination against a blind man, according to published accounts.

   This story has been widely reported. Much of my information comes from a story by Michael E. Kanell in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  

   Thought I would mention this before you make those weekend pizza plans.   

   “A federal agency has filed suit against Papa John’s Pizza in federal court, alleging the company discriminated against a legally blind man the company had hired at one of its Georgia restaurants,” Kanell writes.

   “The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has charged Papa John’s with having hired Michael Barnes at a restaurant in Athens, then unlawfully firing him before he could start work.”

   “Barnes, who relies on his service dog to get around, had applied after being told by a friend the company hired individuals with vision impairments, the complaint said. However, he said he needed to bring his service dog with him and Papa John’s management denied that request and fired him before he had started work,” Kanell writes.

   “In a statement, the EEOC said that action violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”

   “The ADA prohibits employers from terminating employees because of a disability and denying them equal employment opportunities,” said Marcus G. Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta district office.

   “The ADA protects employees seeking reasonable accommodations involving service animals. Employers must evaluate such requests on their individual merits. They may not, as Papa John’s has done, reject such requests based on vague and unspecified ‘health and safety’ concerns,” Keegan said.

   In its code of ethics and business conduct, Papa John’s says that “everyone belongs.” The statement touts principles of “diversity, equity, inclusion and teamwork,” according to tastingtable.com.

   The pizza giant claims goals of doing the right thing and putting people first, including “team member focus.”

   The company did not live up to those claims according to the federal lawsuit.

   This is not the first time Papa John’s has been sued for employment discrimination.

   “A Papa John’s franchise paid $125,000 in 2017 for allegedly discriminating against an employee who had Down syndrome,” according to a story by Franchise Times.  “The employee, Scott Bonn, had a job coach to help him during his shifts for about five months before he was fired after an operating partner witnessed the job coach assisting Bonn. The operating partner reportedly told management to fire Bonn, according to the lawsuit.”

   “A spokesman for Papa John’s, which has dual headquarters in Atlanta and Louisville, Kentucky, said it could not comment on the details of a particular suit, particularly in its early stages. But in an emailed statement, he said Papa John’s policy is to comply with the ADA,” Kanell writes.

   “We make reasonable accommodations for the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is a team member or an applicant, unless undue hardship would result,” the statement said. “Papa John’s is committed to maintaining a diverse and inclusive culture for all of our team members, including those with disabilities.”

   None of the articles I saw contained any direct comment from Papa John’s on the Georgia case. The EEOC said it first tried to reach a settlement with Papa John’s, but was unsuccessful.

   “Among its requests in court, the EEOC is asking that Barnes receive back pay, punitive damages and either be reinstated or paid ‘front pay’ as compensation. The EEOC is also asking that the court order Papa John’s to refrain from future discrimination,” Kanell writes.

   The suit was filed March 15 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Athens Division.

   Meanwhile blind Americans hungry for both justice and pizza are running out of options.  Domino’s Pizza is being sued by a California man because its website is inaccessible to blind people who use computer speech software.

   There is big industry money behind the Domino’s defense in this case, which I reported on in 2019  “Domino’s Indifference Leaves Bad Taste,” Aug. 27, 2019.) In a recent search I found nothing new to report on that one.

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