Panera to settle Crispani suit for $5.75 million

Class action alleged chain inflated success of pizza line to investors

Panera Bread Co. settled for $5.75 million a class-action lawsuit brought by shareholders who alleged the company misled investors about the success of its now-discontinued pizza line.

District Judge E. Richard Webber gave preliminary approval to the mediated settlement Tuesday, according to court documents. The company told a newspaper in St. Louis that it admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

The suit, filed initially in January 2008 by Western Washington Laborers-Employers Pension Trust, claimed Panera inflated the success of its Crispani pizza in press releases and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, resulting in higher stock prices. The Crispani line debuted in 2006 and was discontinued in 2008.

The claim was made in a U.S. District Court in St. Louis on behalf of shareholders who bought Panera common stock between Nov. 1, 2005, and July 26, 2007. The 1,453-unit bakery-café chain is based in Sunset Hills, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

Panera did not respond to requests for comments. Mike Bongiorno, an attorney representing the company, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the settlement is covered by Panera's insurers, and will not be borne by the company or its executives.

“Panera and the individual defendants deny any wrongdoing in respect to the claims and make no admissions whatsoever in wrongdoing in connection with the settlement,” Bongiorno told the newspaper. “The company denied all of the allegations, but this is an opportunity to put this behind us.”

A hearing to approve the settlement is scheduled for June 22.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]