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Is Papa John’s about to have a Subway or Uber-sized reckoning?
The recent controversy surrounding Papa John’s founder John Schnatter may have just been the tip of the iceberg, a new report from Forbes alleges.
Schnatter came under fire earlier this month after Forbes reported that the founder of pizza chain used the N-word during a conference call in May. Schnatter — who, after resigning as CEO last year following backlash over his controversial comments about NFL protests, was already no stranger to controversy — admitted to using the slur in a statement to Forbes, and later resigned as chairman of the company.
Now, after Schnatter has publicly claimed that he was “pushed” into using the N-word by a marketing agency, a new report from Forbes published on July 19 alleges that Schnatter’s behavior is only a sampling of the toxic culture thriving at the pizza company. The N-word slip by Schnatter, who is arguably part of Papa John’s visual identity in his close association with advertising and its origin story, has put the 33-year-old company under intense scrutiny.
The expose, pieced together over the course of months, is based on interviews with 37 current and former employees, many who requested anonymity.
Here are six of the most jaw-dropping revelations from Forbes’ piece.
1. Schnatter allegedly continued to show up to work after resigning.
Schnatter does not seem to be going away quietly, as much as the company attempts to create distance. The day after he resigned as chairman, Schnatter showed up to work per usual, Forbes reports.
Schnatter’s showing up, despite the board reportedly attempting to terminate his office lease at the company’s Louisville, Kentucky headquarters, is in line with earlier reports that Schnatter views his decision to resign as a “mistake.”
2. Schnatter might have been inappropriate to women in his employ.
The Forbes investigation includes reports of Schnatter’s inappropriate dealings with women and when discussing them. One female employee, who reported to Forbes that Schnatter never passed her in the hallway without initiating a hug, also alleged to the outlet that Schnatter once asked her if she’d had sex with her previous boss, in addition to asking her questions about her bra size.
Schnatter denies these allegations. Schnatter also denied a male executive’s claim that Schnatter once told him that his wife would be “cute” if she lost weight.
3. Papa John’s staff allegedly have had to sign non-disclosure agreements for years.
In addition to working in an environment that many have deemed toxic, the culture at Papa John’s also seems to have been one of silence.
Forbes claims that the company’s corporate employees have signed non-disclosure agreements, as well as other types of confidentiality contracts preventing them from commenting on Schnatter’s private life — and disputing anything in his memoir — since “roughly 2013.”
So, why exactly would an entire company’s worth of people need to sign an NDA?
4. The alleged toxicity of Papa John’s culture is perpetuated by more than one person.
Schnatter might not have been the only one responsible for Papa John’s alleged toxic culture; Forbes claims that Papa John’s current CEO Steve Ritchie, who worked directly under Schnatter for three years, also enabled the company’s “bro” culture.
A few examples of alleged misconduct about this bro culture: female employees being mockingly asked if they were menstruating, and male employees making comments about “gangbangs,” according to Forbes’ anonymous sources.
According to three former employees Forbes reached out to, Ritchie was present when past inappropriate comments were made and laughed in response. Other sources alleged that profanity and inappropriate comments were not uncommon at meetings.
5. One male employee is alleged to have discussed porn, shared inappropriate photos, with coworkers.
Dustin Couts, a Papa John’s employee who Forbes described as a “longtime operations leader,” is alleged to have discussed porn with a female junior employee and, at another point, showed inappropriate photos on his cellphone to a coworker, according to one of Forbes’ numerous anonymous sources.
Another source claimed to Forbes that, on one occasion, Couts asked another male employee whether the wedding ring he was wearing was actually his “cock ring.”
Couts did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment while Papa John’s opted not to answer questions about the allegations, the magazine reported.
6. Staff were allegedly encouraged to spy on each other.
Forbes’ shocking expose also alleged that Schnatter recruited his own employees to spy on each other.
Two sources told the magazine that Schnatter read workers’ emails, and sometimes even used a disposable phone to conduct business from. While the Papa John’s founder denied spying or snooping, he did confirm to Forbes that he occasionally used disposable phones, but for the purpose of “corporate security.”
[Photo: John Schnatter arrives at the 47th Annual Academy Of Country Music Awards on April 1, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. By Angela Weiss/ACMA2012/Getty Images for ACM]