The current corporate turmoil has been swirling since founder and largest shareholder John Schnatter admitted last week to using the N-word during a media training session in May. A Forbes article reporting the incident appeared July 11 and Schnatter resigned his position as board chairman the same day.
The stock fell sharply but recovered the following day as it appeared the fallout was contained.
However, since then Schnatter, who owns about 30% of the company's stock, has given interviews claiming he and the company were blackmailed by an attorney for the media training company, Laundry Service. The board has responded by insisting Schnatter no longer is a spokesman for the company or brand, and by barring him from his office in the company's headquarters.
The current incidents follow a series of events last fall in which Schnatter blamed poor sales on the NFL's declining TV ratings. At the time, Schnatter said the declining ratings for the football league's games arose from the failure to prevent players from taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans. Shares have fallen roughly 25% since then and Schnatter was forced to resign as CEO effective in January.
The latest noise in the current controversy comes from letters by Schnatter and his lawyer Patricia L. Glaser, of the Los Angeles law firm of Glaser Weil, to Papa John's board.
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In Schnatter's letter on Saturday, July 14, he said he regretted his decision to resign as chairman, which came at the board's urging. Schnatter remains on the board.
Schnatter also spelled out his version of a media training meeting on May 14. He wrote: "During and after that meeting, the Laundry Service leadership strongly urged that our company retain [singer] Kanye West as my co-spokesman in the television spots and other promotions. I told them that would not work because he uses the n-word in his lyrics."
In addition, according to the Schnatter letter "One of their attorneys said they would conduct a smear campaign against the company and me unless we paid them what they were asking for. Unfortunately, the company gave in to this extortion attempt and offered them $2.5 million or roughly $1.2 million more than they were owed."
In her letter to the board on Sunday, July 15, Glaser wrote that Schnatter resisted the idea of working with West because of his use of the n-word in lyrics, adding: "In other words, Mr. Schnatter's conduct and recommendations were strongly in the best interest of the company. The board's handling of these same events, however, is not. In particular, the board appears willing to proceed based on 'rumor and innuendo' without any investigation."
She added that, "the failure to conduct a complete and independent investigation and become informed before acting would represent acts or omissions not in good faith rendering individual board members liable for all resulting harm to the company and to Mr. Schnatter."
Papa John's did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both letters were in advance of Sunday's board meeting in which the board's special committee ended the founder's agreement with Schnatter and the sublease for his office at company headquarters in Louisville, Ky.
In the near term, Papa John's stock price appears to be stabilizing. The stock plummeted to $48.33 on the day the Forbes story was published, but bounced back on July 12 to close on $53.67. Shares closed at $51.54 Tuesday.