Barnes, blind since 2008, was hired by Papa John’s in February 2020 to work in the dough station of its restaurant at 498 Baxter Street in Athens, case records show. Barnes had disclosed his disability and the need for his service dog, a black labrador called Indie, to guide him to and from work.
The restaurant’s manager allegedly told Barnes that Indie could be kept on the premises, out of customer view and away from food preparation activities, during his shifts. They allegedly discussed keeping Indie secured or crated in the restaurant’s conference room or under the manager’s desk.
Barnes’s employment was briefly delayed by the pandemic, and he was told in May 2020 that he could start work, case filings show. The following month, Papa John’s denied Barnes’s request to have Indie remain at the restaurant during his shifts, despite the manager’s repeated assurances that it wouldn’t be a problem.
Barnes was subsequently fired from Papa John’s, which prompted the EEOC to file a lawsuit.
Papa John’s USA Inc. and Papa John’s International Inc. were accused in a March 2023 complaint of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act by denying Barnes’ reasonable accommodation and terminating his employment due to his disability. Barnes successfully sought to intervene in the EEOC’s case as an additional plaintiff.
The EEOC claimed that Papa John’s deemed Indie to be an unspecified health and safety risk. It alleged Papa John’s never identified any code, law or regulation prohibiting Barnes’s request for Indie to remain at the restaurant during his shifts.
Papa John’s failed to properly evaluate Barnes’s request and rejected it “based on improper stereotypes about service animals and their presence in restaurants or other food service establishments,” the EEOC alleged.
Papa John’s denied the allegations.