A pregnant Moroccan Muslim woman has sued a Domino’s Pizza franchisee in Davenport over the quality of pizza and treatment she received from employees of the restaurant. The customer brought suit in state court in Polk County against the franchisee, Michael P. Jarvis, both as an individual and as the owner of Michael J.’s Pizzeria, Inc., d/b/a Domino’s Pizza, Store Number 3267. Here is what the customer claimed happened.
Pizza blows up!
In July 2012 Hakima Benaddi, who was pregnant at the time, took her 23-month-old daughter to the Domino’s store. Benaddi was wearing a hijab, a traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women. She ordered a vegetarian pizza and went home after receiving her pizza. After opening the pizza box, she discovered that the pizza was “grossly inadequate.” She described her pizza as “missing crust and sauce in some places, the shape of the pizza was deformed, and many of the vegetables [that she was told would be on the pizza] were missing.” The only toppings on the pizza were mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions, all of which were improperly distributed, according to Benaddi. A Domino’s employee later said that the store was busy at the time and that employees had forgotten to put black olives on the pizza.
Benaddi called the store and complained, but according to her, no solution was offered. She went back to the store with her pizza to complain. At the store, she claims she was ignored at first but eventually met with three employees, including the store manager. They told her there was nothing wrong with her pizza and the pizza she had ordered did not come with the toppings she claimed were missing. She claimed one of the employees laughed at her and the employees refused to give her a refund or honor Domino’s satisfaction guarantee.
Whitney Green, the employee who took Benaddi’s order, claimed Benaddi yelled at her and said, “It’s because you’re an American and I am Muslim. I am gonna come back with a bomb. I will blow you all up, especially you with the glasses [referring to Green].” Benaddi then left the pizza on the floor and went home.
A Domino’s employee claimed Benaddi called the store after returning home and told him she was going to blow up the place. Domino’s called police, who went to the store and investigated. Police then went to interview Benaddi at her home around midnight. Benaddi admitted that she had complained about the pizza but denied making statements about a bomb. Still, the sheriff’s office arrested her.
Benaddi filed suit against the store, claiming that employees fabricated the statements she allegedly made and that the statements were typical of hate speech directed at and stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. She claimed she was discriminated against because of her race, religion, and national origin. Jarvis had the case moved to federal court in Tampa based on the federal laws that Benaddi claimed were violated by his business.
Claims under employment laws
Benaddi sued based on Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the public accommodations provision. The provision states: “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . . without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Benaddi claimed Domino’s discriminatory treatment of her because of the pizza sale violated Title II. Jarvis asked the court to dismiss her claim.
On Benaddi’s claim based on the public accommodation provision of Title II, the court noted that she is a “Muslim woman of Arab and Moroccan descent.” Also, the court found that she adequately showed that Michael J’s Pizzeria is a place of public accommodation and that she attempted to contract for services when she ordered a pizza at the restaurant.
However, Benaddi failed to establish that she was denied the right to contract for service or that she was denied benefits or enjoyment. The court found that since she successfully ordered, paid for, and received her pizza, she could not show that she was denied the right to contract for the food. The court noted that the fact “that she was personally displeased with the pizza that she obtained is of no consequence.” Thus, she failed to establish a required element of her public accommodation claim—i.e., that she was denied the right to contract. The court also found that Benaddi failed to show that she was treated differently as a Muslim woman since she did not present any evidence that non-Muslims were treated differently. Thus, her claim for a violation of the public accommodations provision was dismissed by the court.
In a second federal claim against the pizzeria, Benaddi asserted that the store violated one of the civil rights laws passed after the Civil War. The law grants minorities the same rights to make and enforce contracts as those enjoyed by white citizens. The court noted: “The term ‘make and enforce contracts’ includes the making, performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship.” However, after analyzing the evidence presented by Benaddi regarding the actions of the Domino’s employees, the court found it was not enough to establish that the actions of Jarvis and the pizzeria were intentionally and purposefully done because of her race and ancestry. Instead, the court said her claims were nothing more than “threadbare recitals” and were supported only by conclusory statements that were not enough to show intentional discrimination based on her race under the law.
Benaddi also asserted claims against the pizzeria for denial of public accommodations under Florida’s discrimination law, the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FLCRA). She further claimed that she suffered intentional infliction of emotional distress under Florida law. In addition, she sued for malicious prosecution and defamation of her character and reputation. All those claims were based on Florida law, not federal law. As a result, the federal court declined to rule on her state-law claims and sent those claims back to the state court in Polk County. Hakima Benaddi v. Michael P. Jarvis, Individually, and Michael J’s Pizzeria, Inc., d/b/a Domino’s Pizza, a Florida Corporation, Case No. 8:15-cv-2143-T-33TGW (M.D. Fla., July 6, 2016).
Benaddi’s arrest for making threatening statements was dropped by the state’s attorney because of inconsistent statements by witnesses, and the record of her arrest was ordered expunged from court records. This case shows that customers can use employment laws to claim discrimination and the denial of rights. Employee training is key to prevention. Employers typically discuss the 32 protected classes of individuals in Florida with supervisors, but if your employees work with the public, general training on Florida’s discrimination laws is needed so they will be sensitive when dealing with all persons.
G. Thomas Harper is the founder of The Law and Mediation Offices of G. Thomas Harper, LLC, in Jacksonville, Florida. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
1 thought on “Pizza discrimination?! Customer sues Florida Domino’s for employees’ alleged bias”
So if someone threatens to “blow up” your business and you report it, all you have to do is just say “I didn’t do it”, and this magically makes the business owner the bad guy? Are we really to believe a pizza business accused someone of a capital crime to avoid dealing with a wrong order? While I agree the pizza business could have lied, the same can be said of the customer. Most people tend to consider who might be the guilty party by weighing which scenario is more likely. Pizza shops deal with wrong orders every single day with nary problem, at least none with a violent outcome. On the other hand, how likely is it for a muslim to “blow up” a building because they’re disgruntled?
Anyone is gonna claim they never threatened such a thing, and there was obviously enough merit to initially arrest the woman but ultimately it seems to have come down to a she said, he said issue. Either way it bad for the pizza owner because if the woman did make such a threat, people “boycotted” Domino’s Pizza when the franchise owner was the VICTIM in all this. I tend to believe the pizza shop because I just don’t see them fabricating something as serious as this just because a customer had a pizza made incorrectly. It just don’t make sense. Again though, knowing what we know today, which scenario is more likely? Dominoes Pizza tried to send some poor pregnant woman with her 2 year-old daughter present to prison for the rest of her life, or a muslim woman threatened to blow up a business because someone wronged her?
You decide . . .