- A federal lawsuit was filed against Taco Bell last week claiming that the company's late-night drive-thru only service is discriminatory against people who can't drive because of sight impairments, and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Restaurant Business. The company's policy prohibits stores from serving pedestrians who walk up to the drive-thru window, citing safety concerns.
- The suit seeks a discontinuation of the drive-thru-only service or the chain's no-pedestrians-at-night policy, as well as undisclosed punitive damages. It also requests a jury trial and a national class action certification.
- In a statement, Taco Bell said the suit lacks merit and that the company is "prepared to defend our brand vigorously."
Like Taco Bell, McDonald's faced a lawsuit in 2016 when a Louisiana man with visual disabilities sued for late-night drive-thru accessibility. The McDonald's lawsuit was tossed in 2018 when a judge ruled the plaintiff failed to establish that he ever attempted to access the drive-thru during late-night hours.
However, that doesn't mean Taco Bell's latest suit will have that same result. The law requires businesses make reasonable accommodations for physical impairments but case results have been inconsistent.
Since there are more ways than ever for customers to access food, a solution should be viable for the late-night drive-thru issue.
Still, late-night drive-thru-only policies aren't the only gray areas restaurants have had to navigate to comply with the ADA and a number of other violations have been brought to court. According to TotalFood, lawsuits have been filed against "thousands of restaurants" since the ADA went into effect in 1990. Taco Bell has had to defend itself before, too. In 2002, a class action suit was filed by a group of plaintiffs alleging that the chain's restaurants weren't designed to properly accommodate wheelchairs.
Lawsuits related to digital non-compliance are increasing sharply. McDonald's settled an ADA lawsuit in 2017 that alleged its website and mobile app weren't accessible. Domino's is fighting a similar lawsuit and has asked the Supreme Court to strike it down saying compliance would cost millions of dollars and accessibility rules have yet to be determined. As more companies add self-service kiosks, similar risks are involved. Eatsa was sued in 2017 by a legally blind customer who couldn't use the company's kiosks, for example.
ADA attorney Charles Petrof told Eater that the bigger the company, the more the law requires you to invest in accessibility, so chains have to figure out how to implement these accommodations or continue defending themselves against lawsuits. And, while it's been nearly 30 years since the ADA went into effect, it's clear more work needs to be done.