A federal court in Pennsylvania has denied the motion for summary judgment
filed by a Burger King franchisee sued for violating the civil rights of an
African-American truck driver who alleged that restaurant employees spit in
his sandwich before serving it. Goodwin v. Fast Food Enters. #3, LLP, No. 10-23 (W.D. Pa., decided May 16, 2012). This motion was based on
the assertion that the plaintiff would be unable to establish that the defendant
is liable for the “allegedly discriminatory actions of the employees” and
a request to strike the plaintiff’s request for punitive damages. In a previous
motion, also decided against the franchisee, the court determined that “there
were triable issues of material fact concerning whether Goodwin’s sandwich
had been spat into and whether the incident, if it occurred, was racially

According to the court, the doctrine of respondeat superior, may not, as
argued by the defendant, apply in cases brought against public entities
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but it is available to establish liability in actions
against private employers under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Because the plaintiff had
alleged that a supervisor “participated in the alleged discriminatory act by
shielding Goodwin’s vision so that another employee could spit into his
sandwich” and because the supervisor was authorized to hire, fire, discipline,
or promote restaurant employees, the court found the pleading sufficient
to state a claim for liability against the defendant. As to the plaintiff’s claim
for punitive damages, the court found the record insufficiently developed to
render summary judgment appropriate. While the defendant had relied on
its purported “good faith” efforts to comply with civil rights law by training
its employees and adopting a diversity policy, it failed to submit deposition
testimony or documentation to support that defense.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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