A Papa John's Pizza worker who says he injured his thumbs slapping dough has slapped his employer with a lawsuit.
John Karas, who has worked for Papa John's for 13 years, says a supervisor for the franchise demoted him for filing a workers' compensation claim, according to the suit he filed against Team Oney Inc. and Oney Bayside LLC.
Those companies do business as Papa John's Pizza at various locations, including 3700 Ulmerton Road, where Karas says he was injured last year.
Karas, who has worked as general manager and marketing coordinator for Papa John's, says he pursued the claim after his employer neglected to do so.
"They kept telling me they were going to file it and they never did," said Karas, 65, on Thursday.
Karas' employer did not return several calls to comment.
So how do your hurt yourself making a pizza?
Before he worked for Papa John's, Karas says he used to do construction work. He broke both wrists and his right thumb in an accident.
And making pizza can be rougher than it looks.
When you first manipulate, or "slap," refrigerated dough balls between your hands to stretch them into pizza crusts, they're really hard, he explained.
"It's like slapping a rock," Karas said.
About three years ago, Karas was working as general manager at Papa John's slapping dough when he injured his right thumb, according to his suit filed in November.
He had surgery. And for a couple of years after that he worked for the franchisee as a full-time marketing coordinator. But, about a year ago, he was reassigned to a general manager position at the Ulmerton store.
He was initially able to delegate dough slapping to other workers, according to his suit. But last April he got a 35-pizza order. He was stuck slapping dough because the designated dough slapper was late for work. Karas said he ended up injuring his thumbs again.
Karas reported the problem and asked his employer to file a workers' compensation claim to cover his medical bills at least three times, according to the suit.
He resumed his former full-time marketing position, he said. And he had surgery for a broken left thumb in June. The doctor used screws and bone from his wrists and lower arm to repair it, he said. After other unsuccessful attempts to persuade his employer to file a claim, he hired a workers' compensation lawyer to help him. That worked. But then he got chewed out by his boss's boss for doing so, he said.
"I thought it was all over with, but it wasn't," Karas said.
In July, he was first told his marketing position was being eliminated, the suit said. About two weeks later, he was told he could stay on as a part-time marketing coordinator. He agreed to do that, and he's still working there. He was also told that if he needed extra money, he could deliver pizzas, he said. He turned down that offer.
Karas went from a $725-a-week salary with benefits to a part-time job making about $175 a week without benefits, he said.
He was afraid he'd lose his car and his St. Petersburg home. He got a loan, paid off his credit cards and applied for Social Security, he said.
His suit seeks compensation for lost wages and lost benefits.
Last month, his employer moved to dismiss the case, claiming that Florida's workers' compensation law does not give someone a right to sue for alleged demotions or other "alleged adverse employment actions" that are not as severe as firing.
Karas' attorney, Nicholas Ottaviano of Florin Roebig in Palm Harbor, said that wasn't the case. He filed a motion saying the law also applies to other retaliatory acts such as "intimidation or coercion."
Karas' employer did not return two calls for comment made to its corporate office in Orlando. Another corporate representative called by the Times said a company executive would be contacting the paper, but the Times never received that call. The franchisee's Tampa attorney, Brian D. Rubenstein, also did not return two calls for comment.
Karas said the whole situation has made him feel "horrible."
"I love my job," Karas said. "I thought I worked for a great company."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.