- A Papa Johns location in Athens, Georgia, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing a worker who needed his service dog to get to work, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission said on Wednesday. in terms of employment (EEOC vs. Papa John’s USA, Inc. No. 3:23-cv-00030 (MD Ga. 14 Mar 2023)).
- According to the complaint, the worker informed the store manager of his accommodation needs before applying and was told that neither his disability nor his need to keep his service dog on site – out of sight of customers and food preparation areas – would not be a problem. After being hired, he submits a request for accommodation to a committee formed to study these needs. He was told a few weeks later that his request was denied and he would be fired. The committee determined that the service dog would pose a “health and safety risk,” according to the complaint.
- “Papa Johns is committed to maintaining a diverse and inclusive culture for all members of our team, including people with disabilities,” a spokesperson for Papa Johns said in a statement provided to HR Dive. “We do not discriminate against any team member or candidate on the basis of any characteristic protected by law or local law. In accordance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), we make reasonable accommodations for known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified person with a disability who is a team member or applicant, unless they results in undue hardship.
Overview of the dive:
Employers often encounter ADA accommodation requests for the use of service animals, typically service dogs. Although it is a well-known type of accommodation, misconceptions remain about the legitimacy and appropriateness of its use, which often causes employers to violate the ADA.
Employers often cite health and safety as reasons for denying a request for a service animal, for example. But one EEOC panel on the subject noted that while food service areas and patient waiting rooms should be kept very clean, there is no expectation of sterility – and so service animals should generally be allowed. Truly sterile environments that would warrant their exclusion involve places like burn rooms or operating rooms, one panelist said.
Last September, a jury reaffirmed this element of the law when he awarded a pharmacist $134,000 after she was not allowed to bring her service dog to work to help her overcome her hypoglycemic ignorance, a diabetic disease. The plaintiff in the case successfully argued that her employer failed to treat the pharmacy as a sterile environment, despite the employer’s concerns about sterility.
EEOC panelists also noted that safety is only considered a viable justification for refusing a service animal if the animal regularly barks, jumps, slaps or displays other aggressive or uncontrolled behaviors – extremely rare from a trained service animal.
Service animals may also be excluded from accommodation if their presence would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs or activities provided to the public, The EEOC said. However, such situations are rare. Examples included by the agency are restricting a service dog to an area of a dormitory that houses students with dander allergies, or restricting a service dog to an area of the zoo where animals are natural predators or prey of dogs, which could cause disturbance.
Last July, the EEOC sued against a Hobby Lobby store in Kansas after it did not allow an employee suffering from PTSD, anxiety and depression to bring her service dog on site. According to court documents filed in February, that case was settled by mediation.