Foodservice Equipment Reports

Court Rules Chipotle Counters Violate ADA Height Rules

A federal appeals court has ruled that the actions taken by two San Diego-area Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants to accommodate disabled customers violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, hearing the case of Maurizio Antoninetti vs. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., ruled that a written “Customers With Disabilities Policy” failed to provide disabled customers the “Chipotle experience” of choosing from among the ingredients lining the counter and watching staff assemble the meal. Chipotle says its stores have already made accommodations and retrofittings in all of its California stores.

Antoninetti, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, claimed that the two Chipotle restaurants he visited in 2005 had high counter walls separating customers from the display kitchen. These blocked his view of the ingredients and the sight of his food being assembled. The court ruled that Antoninetti was denied the “Chipotle experience” because the 45”-high counter was too tall. Guidelines from the U.S. Justice Department state that 36” is the maximum allowable height under ADA for such a counter. The court said Chipotle's solution of showing the plaintiff samples of the individual foods in serving spoons or plastic cups and assembling his order near the cash register or at a table in the dining room fell short of the law's requirements.

“We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling,” Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said in a statement released after the ruling.

“However, the matter is largely moot because, several years ago—independent of this lawsuit—we retrofitted all of our California restaurants with a new counter design that eliminates any concern regarding wheelchair accessibility,” Arnold continued. “The new counter design, which is also incorporated into the construction of all new restaurants throughout the country and into all updates of existing restaurants, resolves the concerns presented in this lawsuit.” Arnold added that the decision to change the counters was made independent of Antoninetti’s lawsuit, which was filed in ’05. The ruling was issued July 26, the 20th anniversary of the ADA.

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