A federal court unsealed a complaint that alleged a "secret plot" against the former CEO of Papa John's Pizza, John Schnatter, that leadership at ad agency Laundry Service, including former CEO Jason Stein, conspired to make the pizza chain founder look racist and damage his brand.
According to the compliant, which was ordered to be unsealed by the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, the branding company hired which was hired by Papa John's to improve its image, was caught on a "hot mic" brainstorming ways in which it could use comments made by Schnatter to damage his image.
Schnatter left his role as Papa John’s chairman after a Forbes article in July 2018 alleged he used the n-word during a media training call with Laundry Service in May 2018.
In 2019, Schnatter sued Laundry Service and its parent company, Wasserman Media Group. In December 2020, Schnatter claimed he had a recording of the company’s executives "plotting to damage" his image.
Jason Stein, Laundry Service's CEO at the time, discussed how he hoped Schnatter “gets f***ing sent out to the pasture with this s**t." The complaint alleged that Stein, and the other employees at Laundry Service, planned "to have an hourlong live interview with a hostile media personality" hoping the former CEO would make damaging statements that could go viral when taken out of context.
According to Schnatter, who released the unsealed document and a statement on Wednesday, the conversation was taped by a witness in the litigation. "The chilling details from this taped conversation make clear the intent of Laundry Service to destroy my reputation, as well as the Papa John’s brand, harming our employees and franchisees in the process."
According to Schnatter’s statement, a former Laundry Service employee present at the conversations testified that "this did not seem part of the efforts to maintain – to help John’s reputation to do the job that we were paid for to help … [this seemed like] the opposite of helping John." Schnatter added that the employee provided the recording to Laundry Service’s HR department and was told to delete it.
Schnatter has been trying to restore his reputation since the Forbes article. In December, Schnatter published a report from former FBI Director Louis Freeh which found no credible evidence of racially insensitive words or actions by Schnatter.
"With this and the evidence coming forth in our litigation, it’s time for Laundry Service to be held accountable, and for Papa John’s to correct the record and apologize to me for validating the media frenzy that led to my forced departure as the company Chairman," Schnatter said in his statement.