California resident Maurizio Antoninetti sued Chipotle after a visit to the restaurant in 2005. The interior design of the business allowed customer’s to see their food being prepared along with the ability to see available additions to add to your custom order, however Antoninetti, a wheelchair user, found the nearly 4 foot barrier wall in front of the assembly line too high to have the same visual experience as an able-bodied customer.
Antoninetti spent nearly $550,000 in legal fees to sue the restaurant while claiming the barrier wall violated the American’s with Disabilities Act that requires businesses to treat patrons with disabilities equally and remove unnecessary obstacles. Chipotle claimed they accommodated patrons with disabilities by describing the assembly process to the customer as well as offer samples of available additional choices through spoons, cups, or tongs. In addition, they would perform this at a table for the wheelchair user if desired.
In 2007, trial courts said the company’s policy for patrons with disabilities met the American with Disabilities Act, but the decision was overturned in appellate court stating Chipotle didn’t produce “equivalent facilitation.” In 2010, on the 20th anniversary of the ADA, federal appeals court ruled that written policy failed to provide customers with disabilities the “Chipotle experience” of watching their food being prepared.
While Chipotle argued to the federal court that their accommodations met ADA standards and that Antoninetti had an extensive history of suing businesses over wheelchair access and hadn’t shown he was sincere about returning to the restaurant should they lower the barrier wall. Courts ruled against Chipotle, ordering them to match “the customer’s personal participation in the selection and preparation of the food.”
Chipotle retrofitted all their restaurants with a lowered barrier wall that allowed all patrons with disabilities the ability to see their food being prepared as the federal court ordered. In April, the US Supreme Court turned away an appeal filed by the food chain claiming the suit was unfounded. The US Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case leaves the previous federal courts decision in Antoninetti’s favor in place.