“We are saddened and disappointed that John Schnatter has filed a needless and wasteful lawsuit in an attempt to distract from his own words and actions,” a Papa John’s spokesman said in a statement Thursday.
Schnatter is seeking documents that cover the time frame between his criticism of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, after which he resigned as chief executive, and Forbes’s report that he had used the racial slur.
In the lawsuit, Schnatter also backtracked from his admission to Forbes that he had used the slur during a conference call.
In an emailed statement published July 11, Schnatter told Forbes, “News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true.” However, the lawsuit says that Forbes had “falsely accused” Schnatter and that the response from Papa John’s was “heavy-handed.” The suit also says that Schnatter agreed to step down as chairman “for the good of the company” while denying the substance of the Forbes report.
Patricia Glaser, Schnatter’s attorney, told Forbes that the pizza chain founder did not use the racial epithet himself but had merely quoted it during the session. “There is a world of difference between using the word as a slur — demeaning someone by calling them that word — and quoting that word,” Forbes reported her as saying.
After Schnatter resigned as chairman, the board took the unusual step — known as a “poison pill” — of blocking any investor from acquiring more than 15 percent of stock without the board’s approval. Schnatter owns 29 percent of the company, and the move limits his stake to less than 50 percent. While companies do use the tactic to prevent hostile takeovers, it’s rare for a company use it against its founder.
Schnatter stepped down as chief executive of the pizza chain at the end of last year, a few weeks after he blamed disappointing sales on what he said was the NFL’s “poor leadership” in managing players who knelt during the national anthem to bring awareness to police brutality. Papa John’s is one of the NFL’s biggest sponsors, and the chain advertises heavily during games.
Schnatter, who donated to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, also made headlines in 2012 when he said the cost of the Affordable Care Act would push up the price of his pizzas.