Papa John’s sued by EEOC for alleged discrimination against blind man

Federal agency says pizza chain fired worker it hired after he sought accommodation for service dog

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.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has charged Papa John’s with having hired Michael Barnes at a restaurant in Athens, then unlawfully fired 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.

In a statement, the EEOC said that action violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The law prohibits discriminating on the basis of disability, the agency said.

A spokesman for the company, 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.

“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.”

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.

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