Carl Horowitz
The revolution in tort liability has claimed another victim. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is now traveling lighter by around $140,000, thanks to a decision a few weeks ago by a three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That might not seem a king’s ransom. But the ruling could have major consequences for the way businesses in this country operate.

The case, known as Antoninetti v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., has all the makings of a Hollywood dark comedy. If only it were fiction. A wheelchair-bound San Diego man, Maurizio Antoninetti, believed that two area Chipotle outlets violated the ban by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on discrimination in places of public accommodation. As a disabled customer, he insisted, his rights had been violated.

What exactly had the Denver-based Chipotle Grill, now with more than 1,000 Mexican-themed short-order restaurants in operation, done to deserve Mr. Antoninetti’s wrath? Apparently, the front counter of the offending establishments was set too high for people in wheelchairs like himself to see over. As a result, he could not view the ingredients of his order being assembled on the serving line. Restaurant management thus had deprived him of full access to its touted “Chipotle experience,” even though it was official restaurant policy to show disabled customers samples of the ingredients in spoons, tongs or cups at the counter or at a table.

Carl Horowitz

Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Gold Partner organization dedicated to promoting ethics in American public life.
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