Each week, NRN editor-in-chief Sarah Lockyer gives you her take on the top restaurant industry news.
As the hangover from last week’s major McDonald’s news fades, everyone is back to business — and the business of running restaurants hasn’t become any easier this week.
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. was hit with a lawsuit that claims the company’s gluten-free menu pricing violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the lawsuit, moved last week to the U.S. District Court for Northern California in San Jose, Calif., plaintiff Anna Marie Phillips claimed P.F. Chang’s violates civil and disability rights by requiring gluten-free diners to pay higher prices. The suit seeks a class action on behalf of diners with celiac disease or gluten intolerance who ordered items from P.F. Chang’s gluten-free menu in California during the past four years. The restaurant company will not comment on any pending litigation, and the plaintiff’s lawyers did not return requests for comment.
While this lawsuit could be a headline-grabbing move, it may also be the beginning of yet another area of litigation — the menu — that restaurants will have to carefully navigate. Like legal actions taken surrounding labor, wages and food safety, restaurants are now vulnerable to a growing consumer demand for ingredient information and transparency. This will not be the last lawsuit filed around food, whether gluten-free, local, sustainably-sourced, organic or natural.
More the norm in the restaurant business, this week we saw a New York-based Papa John’s franchisee ordered by a judge to pay nearly $800,000 in unpaid wages and other damages. But that’s not all. According to the New York Post, the attorney general on the case was considering an action against the franchisor, Papa John’s International Inc., in what would be a test of the National Labor Relations Board’s joint employer decision, which could make franchisors liable for the employment actions of franchise operators. As I write this, the U.S. Senate is holding a hearing on joint employer status and a push for legislation is likely.
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