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Multiple Papa John's Employees Describe Sexual Harassment, Nepotism

Michelle Lou
Papa John's founder John Schnatter resigned last week as chairman over his use

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter resigned last week as chairman over his use of a racial slur, but that incident may have just scratched the surface of the company’s problems.

According to an explosive Forbes report published on Thursday, the pizza giant also fosters a toxic workplace culture that includes sexual harassment, nepotism and spying on employees.

The magazine interviewed 37 current and former Papa John’s employees, who painted a concerning picture. 

Several female Papa John’s employees described enduring a pattern of sexist and other inappropriate remarks from male colleagues. One woman said that Schnatter asked about her bra size and if she had sex with her former boss. Another female employee said a male colleague asked her if she was menstruating when she disagreed with him. 

Some employees said Schnatter has a history of privately settling with women for sexual harassment. One woman, Lesli Workman, sued Schnatter and the company in 1999, alleging that he’d sexually harassed her for months, repeatedly visited her house and kissed and groped her. Schnatter denied the allegations and said Workman had pursued him, according to Forbes.

After Schnatter promoted Steve Ritchie to president in 2014, employees said the company culture became even more toxic, marked by rampant profanity and unabashed nepotism. After Ritchie replaced Schnatter as CEO last year, Schnatter continued to exert control over the company by reading employee’s emails and recruiting allies to spy on their co-workers.

Earlier this month, Schnatter apologized for using a racial slur during a company meeting and resigned from his seat on Papa John’s board of directors. Shortly after, he sent a letter to the board saying that his resignation was a mistake and that he did not intend to use “the ‘N’ word in that meeting as a racial epithet, nor would I ever.” 

“The board asked me to step down as chairman without apparently doing any investigation. I agreed, though today I believe it was a mistake to do so,” Schnatter’s letter read. “I will not allow either my good name or the good name of the company I founded and love to be unfairly tainted.”

Schnatter’s lawyer Patricia Glaser, who is helping her client fight his removal from Papa John’s board of directors, told HuffPost that the Forbes story “contains numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations.”

“It’s easy to make false statements when one hides behind the cloak of anonymity,” Glaser said. “The Board and now the special committee have repeatedly acted without an investigation of the facts and contrary to their fiduciary duties to the shareholders. It’s a perfect example of ready, shoot, aim.”

Papa John’s has seen a rapid decline in profits in the wake of the scandal. The company says it has retained law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP to oversee an audit and investigation of the company’s culture.

“We take this matter seriously,” a Papa John’s spokesperson told HuffPost. “If anything is found to be wrong, we are determined to take appropriate action.”

The revelations about the company’s work culture come after Schnatter’s racial slur scandal this month and his controversial remarks about NFL players protesting during the national anthem in 2017. The company has recently lost its high-profile deals with the NFL, MLB as well as several other professional sports teams.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.