Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chipolte Mexican Grill must become ADA compliant

From The San Francisco Chronicle:

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court turned away an appeal by Chipotle Mexican Grill on April 18 and left intact a federal appeals court ruling in San Francisco that said a nearly 4-foot barrier in a waiting line denied wheelchair users the right to see the food they were ordering.

The barrier "subjects disabled customers to a disadvantage that non-disabled customers do not suffer," the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July in a case from San Diego County. The ruling came on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires businesses to treat disabled patrons equally and remove unnecessary obstacles.

Maurizio Antoninetti said in his lawsuit in 2005 that a 45-inch barrier at Chipotle restaurants in San Diego and Encinitas blocked his view of the counter, where customers can inspect each dish, choose their order and watch it being prepared.

Chipotle said it met wheelchair users' needs by bringing them spoonfuls of their preferred dish for inspection before ordering. But the appeals court said that doesn't match "the customer's personal participation in the selection and preparation of the food."

Chipotle argued that its accommodation was adequate and told the Supreme Court that Antoninetti lacked standing to sue. The company cited a federal judge's findings in 2008 that Antoninetti had sued numerous businesses over disability access and had not shown that he was sincere about intending to return to the restaurants if they lowered their barriers.

The high court denied review of the case without comment.

The restaurant chain, based in Denver, did not respond to requests for comment Monday. After the appeals court ruling, company spokesman Chris Arnold said Chipotle was retrofitting restaurants with "a new counter design that eliminates any concern regarding wheelchair accessibility."