Tuesday, April 19, 2011

System Fail: ADA trumps OSHA for biggest lack of common sense

So you walk into Chipotle and order a burrito.  They ask you what you want on it, following the Subway model of sandwich building, and you walk down the line adding black beans and rice and whatever else you'd like to stuff your face with at that particular moment, uncaring as to the future state of your bowels.  Your burrito is finished for you and you take your seat and chow down.

Unless you're in a wheelchair, in which case the 45" high counter - designed at this height for the ergonomic health of Chipotle's employees and to comply with various OSHA lawsuits, along with the actual benefit of increased productivity - is too high for you to see over.  This is when Chipotle, in order to best accommodate all of its customers, actually brings the food around the counter to you, providing you the highest level of service imaginable, to ensure that you, like anyone else, can see what it is you would like to have on your burrito.

But still, that damn, counter!  That counter isn't fair.  You don't want to be treated any differently that anyone else, even though you are different.  You want to be able to shuffle through the Chipotle line three lousy inches at a time like all the rest of the cattle, damnit!  It's time to sue!  And so it goes, all the way to the Supreme Court, who refuses to hear Chipotle's claims that you are frivolous and lawsuit happy, and so the 9th Circuit's ridiculous ruling stands:

The barrier "subjects disabled customers to a disadvantage that non-disabled customers do not suffer," the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July in a case from San Diego County. The ruling came on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires businesses to treat disabled patrons equally and remove unnecessary obstacles.  Maurizio Antoninetti said in his lawsuit in 2005 that a 45-inch barrier at Chipotle restaurants in San Diego and Encinitas blocked his view of the counter, where customers can inspect each dish, choose their order and watch it being prepared. 
Chipotle said it met wheelchair users' needs by bringing them spoonfuls of their preferred dish for inspection before ordering. But the appeals court said that doesn't match "the customer's personal participation in the selection and preparation of the food."

Let's set aside for a minute the absolutely ludicrous assertion that the court has rested on the idea that "the customer's personal participation in the selection and preparation of the food" at Chipotle has become a right, and focus more on the end result of this fiasco.
After the appeals court ruling, company spokesman Chris Arnold said Chipotle was retrofitting restaurants with "a new counter design that eliminates any concern regarding wheelchair accessibility."
Chipotle has over 1,000 locations, and 26,500 employees.  I can imagine a counter that will work for the end purpose for this, one that will, perhaps, display the ingredients on an angle, at a lower elevation, but that is going to require thousands and thousands of employees, every day, to bend over farther than normal, repeatedly, and perhaps far enough, over and over, to eventually cause back problems.  Perhaps this will happen, and perhaps some blood sucking enterprising lawyer will assemble a massive class action lawsuit, leaning on OSHA, against Chipotle's viciously non-ergonomic counters.

I only hope, at that time, that this lawyer will remember to include Maurizio Antoninetti and the 9th District Court of Appeals as parties to that lawsuit along with Chipotle.  Because if it weren't for them, all of those future thousands of Chipotle employees, would have been standing upright all day instead.

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