Jim Porter: Chipotle Mexican Grill violates ADA law
Special to the Sun
You’ve been to a Chipotle restaurant right? I went to one in Monterey a few months ago. It was really good.
The self-described and#8220;Chipotle experienceand#8221; includes customers walking in a line, custom-selecting ingredients like salsa, guac, cheese, lettuce, beans, etc. to go into a burrito, taco or other Mexican food. The employees load up your concoction and#8212; not unlike a Subway sandwich place.
At the end of the line and selection of goodies is a transaction station where the customers pay and pick up their orders.
The food preparation (selection) counter is 34 inches high, while the wall separating the walking aisle from the food prep counter is 45 inches. The transaction station counter where the cash register sits is 34 inches high.
The average eye level for people in a wheelchair is 43-51 inches above the restaurant floor, so a person in a wheelchair cannot see the food preparation counter or the food on display.
Maurizio Antoninetti ate at Chipotle restaurants in San Diego and Ensenada on several occasions. Antoninetti uses a wheelchair.
Chipotle had a policy of accommodating customers in wheelchairs who want to see the choice of food ingredients or watch the assembly of their food: Restaurant staff offers to show a wheelchair customer samples of the food or brings food samples to the table or offers some other accommodation requested or appropriate for the individual. Antoninetti sued, claiming the Chipotle accommodation policy did not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines.
The trial court in this federal case ruled that Chipotle’s accommodation policy complied with the act, but because the policy was unwritten until Antoninetti filed his lawsuit, it violated the act. He was awarded some of his attorney fees and#8212; under the act and under the California Disabled Persons Act.
The trial court declined to mandate any physical changes to Chipotle’s restaurants, noting that Antoninetti, since immigrating to the U.S., had sued more than 20 restaurants.
The Court of Appeals discussed the Guideline regarding placement of wheelchair locations that and#8220;requires a line-of-sight comparable for the general public.and#8221; For example, the wheelchair platform you see at ballparks. The court found the line-of-sight guideline inapplicable, relying instead on another guideline that governs and#8220;sales and service counters,and#8221; which requires a maximum height of 36 inches for a main counter.
The Chipotle food prep wall separating customers from their food selections is 45 inches, well over 36.
Because of the separation wall, Antoninetti could not watch employees combine ingredients to make his burrito or taco, and was therefore denied personal participation in the preparation of his food, i.e. the and#8220;Chipotle experience.and#8221;
So don’t be surprised if you see remodel projects going on at Chipotle restaurants, either converting to glass or lowering the wall in front of the food prep counter, which should have been done in the first place. Antoninetti was awarded substantial attorney fees under both acts. Funding for his next restaurant challenge.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firm’s web site http://www.portersimon.com.
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