Local Man Wins Lawsuit Against Chipotle

Court Rules Chipotle Restaurants Violated Americans With Disabilities Act

A federal appeals court ruled in favor of a San Diego man who sued a fast food restaurant chain for violating the rights of the disabled.

The court ruled Chipotle, specifically two of its locations in San Diego, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because the wall at the counter was too tall for people in wheelchairs to see over, to pick out their ingredients and to see their food being prepared.

Maurizio Antoninetti and his attorney, Amy Vandeveld, have waited five years for the ruling.

In video taken during the course of the suit, Antoninetti ordered at a local Chipotle restaurant. In the footage, he is unable to see over the wall, can't point out the ingredients he wants and is not able to see his burrito being made.

"I just wanted Chipotle to understand it cannot treat people in a wheelchair in a different way than everybody else," he told 10News from Italy.

Vandeveld added, "They could have settled this case five years ago by saying, 'We're going to lower the walls so people in chairs can have the Chipotle experience.' And they refused to do it."

For Antoninetti, the lawsuit was not about money. He racked up at least $550,000 in legal bills, but is asking Chipotle for only $8,000 in damages.

Chipotle issued the following statement to 10News: "We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling. However, the matter is largely moot because several years ago, independent of this lawsuit, we retrofitted all our California restaurants with a new counter design that eliminates concern regarding wheelchair accessibility."

"If that were true, why did they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars litigating this case?" said Vandeveld.

She added the retrofits never came up in court.

"They've not once told us that they lowered the walls. I have heard that from you; I've never heard that from Chipotle," said Vandeveld.

10News visited the Chipotle restaurant in Hillcrest and noticed the wall where customers look over to see the food has been lowered. The old walls were 44 inches high, and the wall at the Hillcrest location was 36 inches, which is low enough for someone in a wheelchair to see over.

"If they have lowered the walls, that's great. That's what we've been fighting for," said Vandeveld.

A trial court had ruled against Antoninetti, saying Chipotle's policy of showing samples to people in wheelchairs was enough.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and overturned that verdict.