Several Denver City Council members want a Chick-fil-A boycott by preventing it from opening at Denver International Airport (DIA), claiming the fast food chain CEO’s support of “biblical marriage” would hurt the city’s reputation.
Chick-fil-A, along with several other potential vendors, applied for a seven-year concession lease at DIA’s Concourse B food court to replace the exiting Steak Escape. DIA concession officials chose Chick-fil-A to fill the spot because travelers gave the chicken sandwich chain the second highest number of votes in a 2013 survey about potential eatery options. Chipotle ranked first but did not apply for the lease, The Denver Post reported.
Despite being closed on Sundays, DIA officials predict Chick-fil-A will make more money for the city than other concessions that are open seven days a week. After a 10-year absence from the airport, the returning restaurant is expected to generate $4.1 million in its first year—$616,278 in concession fees—according to The Denver Post. Chick-fil-A’s restaurant locator shows 30 franchises already operating in the metro-Denver area.
But when DIA officials presented the plan to the city council’s business development committee for approval on Aug. 18, several members publicly balked at the idea. They declared the religious beliefs of Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, son of founder Truett Cathy, would be bad for the city’s reputation.
In 2012, Dan Cathy stated he believed in “the biblical definition of the family unit” in an interview with the Baptist Press. At that time, politicians in Boston and Chicago unsuccessfully threatened to deny Chick-fil-A operating permits due to Cathy’s comments.
Denver Councilman Paul Lopez told the committee the restaurant would bring “really, truly a moral issue on the city.”
“We can do better than this brand in Denver at our airport, in my estimation,” Councilman Jolon Clark said at the meeting, according to The Denver Post.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech, the council’s first openly gay member, told The Denver Post she worried about the franchise generating “corporate profits used to fund and fuel discrimination.”
The committee decided to put off a decision on the concession contract until Sept. 1 and seek legal advice on their options, according to the meeting minutes. Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell told the committee he was shocked by the discussion and had never seen a contract controversy like this “in all my years,” according to The Denver Post. Broadwell has worked as Denver’s Land Use and Revenue Supervisor since 1999.
After The Denver Post reported the committee’s discussion, Chick-fil-A found it had a surprising number of supporters. Usually left-leaning columnists pointed out the committee’s potential violation of the restaurant owner’s First Amendment rights.
“The government may impose all sorts of conduct requirements on concessionaires, including non-discrimination rules, but it may not penalize a potential concessionaire because of the political expressions or beliefs of its owners or managers,” wrote Jonathan Adler of The Washington Post. “Private individuals and private companies are free to take such concerns into account when deciding where to take their business. Governments may not.”
The Denver Post editorial board ran its own blunt editorial on Aug. 20: “Think this one through, Denver City Council. If you block Chick-fil-A from returning as a vendor at Denver International Airport, how far might you then go in imposing political litmus tests on corporations seeking to do business there—or elsewhere in the city? And what are the implications for free speech in America if such political vetoes by cities were to become the norm?”
After to the firestorm, some of the committee members tried to backtrack. During an appearance on NBC 9News, Kniech and Clark said they “have conversations like this about contracts all the time” and this “pause” was a “common process to make sure we know who we are doing business with.”
In a statement issued in response to the debate, Chick-fil-A noted both its corporate organization and its franchised restaurant owners are “equal opportunity employers, employing more than 75,000 individuals who represent many diverse viewpoints, opinions, backgrounds, and beliefs.”
Despite the ongoing narrative about Chick-fil-A being a discriminatory organization because of its Christian corporate culture, the facts don’t bear that out, Hans Bader, senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Adler. Bader noted a search on Westlaw, an online legal research service, reveals Chick-fil-A has “basically no lawsuits against it for [sexual] discrimination. Or any kind of discrimination.” While other fast food chains like McDonald’s face lawsuits over everything from wage and hour conflicts to sexual harassment, Chick-fil-A franchise lawsuits are “rare,” he said.
“There is no evidence that Chick-fil-A discriminates against gay patrons, and it has restaurants in many cities than ban anti-gay discrimination,” Bader wrote. “Maybe it treats its employees very well.”
By Sarah Padbury | World News Service