A lawyer for a wheelchair user who sued the Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. restaurant chain said Wednesday she hopes a ruling from a federal appeals court in San Francisco will lead to better facilities for disabled people.
Amy Vandeveld said the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday shows that businesses that fail to provide an adequate solution for legally required equivalent facilities “do so at their peril.”
Vandeveld’s client, Maurizio Antoninetti, sued Chipotle Mexican Grill in federal court in San Diego in 2005 after finding that barrier walls in two restaurants in San Diego and Encinco blocked his view of their food preparation counters.
The walls were 3 feet 9 inches high. Guidelines implementing the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act require businesses to have counters no more than 3 feet high or provide “substantially equivalent” facilities.
The appeals court said the walls prevented Antoninetti from seeing the display of ingredients he could select and watching his burritos and tacos being made – two activities that were advertised by the company as key parts of the “Chipotle experience.”
A three-judge panel said the company’s policy of offering wheelchair users sample servings of the food options did not provide a substantially equivalent experience.
“The presence of the wall in the two restaurants significantly reduced Antoninetti’s ability to enjoy the ‘Chipotle experience,'” the court said.
The appeals court sent the case back to a federal trial judge in San Diego for issuance of a preliminary injunction.
Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill, said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” but said the company has now retrofitted all its California restaurants with a new counter design.
Arnold said the new design “eliminates any concern regarding wheelchair accessibility.”
The ruling sets a precedent, however, in the nine western states in the 9th Circuit for interpretation of the disability law guideline.