- A Papa Johns location in Athens, Georgia, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired a worker who needed his service dog to commute to work, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged Wednesday (EEOC v. Papa John’s USA, Inc. No. 3:23-cv-00030 (M.D. Ga. March 14, 2023)).
- According to the complaint, the worker informed the store manager of his accommodation needs before applying and was told neither his disability nor his need to keep his service dog on-site — outside of customer view and food preparation areas — would present an issue. After he was hired, he submitted an accommodation request to a committee formed to consider such needs. He was told a few weeks later that his request was denied and he would be terminated. The committee determined the service dog would be a “health and safety risk,” according to the complaint.
- “Papa Johns is committed to maintaining a diverse and inclusive culture for all of our team members, including those with disabilities,” a Papa Johns spokesperson said in a statement provided to HR Dive. “We do not discriminate against any team member or applicant on the basis of any characteristic protected by statute or local law. In compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (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.”
Employers commonly encounter ADA accommodation requests for the use of service animals, typically service dogs. While they may be a well-known type of accommodation, misconceptions still linger about the legitimacy and appropriateness of their use, causing employers to often run afoul of the ADA.
Employers often cite health and safety as reasons to deny a service animal request, for example. But an EEOC panel on the topic noted that while food service areas and patient waiting rooms should be very clean, there is no expectation of sterility — and service animals should therefore generally be allowed. Genuinely sterile environments that would justify their exclusion involve places like burn wards or operating rooms, one panelist said.
Last September, a jury reaffirmed this element of the law when it awarded a pharmacist $134,000 after she was not allowed to bring her service dog to work to assist with her hypoglycemic unawareness, a diabetic condition. The plaintiff in the case successfully argued that her employer did not 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 denying a service animal if the animal is routinely barking, jumping, snapping or displaying other aggressive or uncontrolled behavior — extremely rare conduct from a trained service animal.
Service animals can also be excluded from accommodation if their presence would “fundamentally alter” the nature of goods, services, programs or activities provided to the public, EEOC has stated. However, such situations are rare. Examples the agency included are restricting a service dog from an area of a dormitory that houses students with dander allergies, or restricting a service dog from an area of the zoo where the animals are natural predators or prey of dogs, which could cause a disturbance.
Last July, EEOC brought a lawsuit against a Hobby Lobby store in Kansas after it did not allow an employee with PTSD, anxiety and depression to bring her service dog on-site. According to February court filings, that case was settled through mediation.