Athens, Georgia – November 23, 2023
Papa John’s, recognized as the fourth-largest pizza delivery restaurant chain in the U.S., has reached a settlement of $175,000 to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee named Michael Barnes, who is blind. The settlement, revealed by the “U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),” addresses allegations that Barnes was denied reasonable accommodation and subsequently terminated before starting his first shift in 2020.
The $175,000 settlement has been reached in connection with a breach of the “Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” a federal statute designed to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities across multiple domains, such as employment. Barnes, who has a legal blindness condition and depends on a service dog for assistance, encountered a situation where he was denied the right to bring his service dog to the workplace, thus contravening the guidelines established by the ADA.
Karla Gilbride, part of EEOC’s general counsel, remarked on the significance of accommodating individuals with disabilities in the workplace, stating, “Not allowing blind and visually impaired people to travel to and from work in the way that affords them confidence and independence is akin to telling sighted workers who rely on the flexibility and independence of driving that they may not travel to work by car.”
Aside from the monetary agreement, Papa John’s has pledged to provide “training for its workforce” on the “Americans with Disabilities Act,” undergo an assessment of its employment policies, and permit the EEOC to oversee instances of discrimination or retaliation complaints. This commitment reflects the company’s intention to promote an inclusive and diverse workplace.
The legal proceedings against Papa John’s began when Barnes submitted an application for a position at a Papa John’s Pizza establishment in Athens, Georgia. This was prompted by information suggesting that the company actively employed individuals with visual impairments. Despite reaching out to the store manager and formally requesting accommodation for his service dog, Barnes was denied both the accommodation and the opportunity to start work, leading to the initiation of legal proceedings.
To expedite resolution and avoid prolonged litigation costs, Papa John’s opted to settle the lawsuit. A spokesperson for the company stated, “Papa John’s is proud to be a People First company where Everyone Belongs. As an employer, we are committed to achieving equal opportunity and maintaining a diverse and inclusive culture for all of our team members, including those with disabilities.” As part of the settlement, Papa John’s has pledged to financially compensate Barnes and provide other relief measures over the next two years.
The EEOC, content with the outcome, highlighted the significance of the ADA in safeguarding the rights of “employees with disabilities.” This involves compelling employers to offer reasonable accommodations, thereby guaranteeing equal opportunities within the work environment. Marcus G. Keegan, who serves as the regional attorney for the “EEOC’s Atlanta District Office,” expressed satisfaction, saying, “The EEOC is glad that Mr. Barnes has received compensation, and the company has committed to conducting training and reviewing its policies to prevent a recurrence of this kind of discrimination.”