Bombshell Recording Exonerates Papa John’s Founder Of Racism Claims, Alleges Set-up By Ad Firm Hired By Former Company CEO, Steve Ritchie
John Schnatter says unsealed tape suggests ad firm Laundry Service violated contractual obligations to frame the founder.
LOUISVILLE, KY (StLouisRestaurantReview) Papa John’s – A recording at the heart of a lawsuit launched by Papa John’s founder John Schnatter against Laundry Service, and its parent company Wasserman Media Group, LLC, led by Casey Wasserman, a media agency formerly employed by Papa John’s, was unsealed today, and strongly suggests that Schnatter was set-up in an attempt to justify his ousting from the company.
“It’s a major relief to finally have more facts that reveal the truth of what really happened,” Schnatter said in a statement. “Now the full recording is public, and people have the full picture. Everyone can hear for themselves how I was raised to reject racism totally. The American people can hear for themselves that the Laundry Service staff were laughing about setting me up to take a fall,” he concluded.
The roughly hour-long tape, which was recorded in secret by a Laundry Service executive, includes comments that were at the center of a 2018 media frenzy resulting in Schnatter’s forced departure as Chairman of Papa John’s. The full recording, however, portrays an entirely different picture than the one painted by the media at the time.
In addition to including multiple instances of Schnatter directly condemning racism, the recording clarifies that his reference to the n-word was made when quoting another restaurant founder, and Schnatter referred in the context of what never to say. Furthermore, immediately after referring, Schnatter can be heard condemning the use of such language when he said, “I never used the word.” This key part of the recording was left out of news reports and was omitted by Laundry Service in 2018. More importantly, the recording demonstrates a shocking lack of professionalism and integrity by Laundry Service – and how the company likely violated their contractual obligations, causing serious damage to the founder, employees, franchisees, and the company’s image – and supports Schnatter’s public comments that he was set up.
The recording makes it clear that Schnatter was kept in the dark about the purpose of the meeting to aggravate him as they begin to discuss, unbeknownst to Schnatter, the issue of racism. It also suggests that Laundry Service orchestrated the call with the intent of getting Schnatter to say something damaging. In the last five minutes of the tape, which features Laundry Service employees talking after the conclusion of the conference call with Schnatter, Laundry Service CEO Jason Stein is heard saying he hopes Schnatter “gets f–king sent out to pasture on this s–t.”
Stein and other employees then go on to discuss how they intend to set up Schnatter with hostile interviewers who, in Stein’s words, will “make sure it’s an hour-long conversation so that he says s–t like he said here.” Another employee is then heard saying, “I want whatever we recorded to be like the actual interview.” The recording indicates that Stein was already recruiting journalists to implement his plan. “I already spoke to Darren Rovell, who said he gets it,” Stein is heard saying about the setup.
What makes the “hot mic” exchange in the final few minutes of the tape all the more shocking is that earlier in the recording, at a point during which Laundry Service mutes its end of the line, Jason Stein can be heard saying, “I think by Sunday John won’t be working … anymore.”
“This recording is absolutely astonishing,” said Dennis Murrell of Middleton Reutlinger, representing Mr. Schnatter. “Rarely in my career have I heard anything like it. The comments made by Laundry Service executives on the recording, in addition to betraying a shockingly unprofessional level of personal bias, indicate a clear and intentional conspiracy to damage John’s reputation, and we believe clearly that Laundry Service violated their contractual obligations,” he continued.
Reference: Civil Action No. 3:20-cv-000003-CHBCHL