Chipotle owes me overtime pay, NJ worker says

Asbury Park Press Michael L. Diamond
June 7, 2017

A New Jersey woman who worked for Chipotle in a management training program says she should have been eligible for overtime pay, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Carmen Alvarez, 55, of Fairfield, Essex County, said the restaurant chain last December  shifted her from an hourly employee to salaried, leaving her to work more than 40 hours a week filling orders and preparing food without extra pay.

“I was crushed when Chipotle went back on its promise to pay me and other co-workers the overtime that we worked so hard for,” Alvarez said in a statement.

The class-action lawsuit  was filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

It put  a spotlight on a rule by the U.S. Labor Department under former President Barack Obama to increase the salary threshold for overtime pay eligibility  from $23,660 a year to $47,476.

Judge Amos Mazzant of the U.S. District Court in Texas halted the rule on Nov. 22, days before it was supposed to go into effect so that he could review the merits of a lawsuit brought by 21 states that objected to the Labor Department’s decision.

The rule’s future under President Donald Trump isn’t clear. New Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said at a hearing Wednesday that the department would open a request for information about it in a move that worker advocates said could delay or weaken the regulation.

Alvarez’s attorneys argued that Judge Mazzant’s decision meant the Labor Department couldn’t enforce the rule. But it didn’t keep the rule from going into effect for private companies, they say. And workers could try to enforce the rule for themselves.

                                                                          *                     *                     *

Alvarez  worked at Chipotle stores in West Orange, Clifton, Ramsey and East Hanover, the lawsuit said.

She was classified by the company as an apprentice a job in which she trained to become a general manager but spent most of her time filling orders, preparing food and working the cash register. She worked upwards of 50 hours  a week. She  had an annual salary of about $42,640. And she was eligible for a bonus of up to $2,500, the lawsuit said.

On Nov. 14, Chipotle shifted  its apprentices to hourly to comply with the new rules. Alvarez’s annual pay was $43,082. She was eligible for a bonus of $750. And she was entitled to overtime pay if she worked more than 40 hours a week, the lawsuit said.

After Judge Mazzant’s ruling, Chipotle  moved the apprentices back to salaried workers and didn’t pay overtime, according to the lawsuit.

“Chipotle is not the only company to avoid paying overtime to its employees by illegally hiding behind a ruling that does not apply to them,” said Joseph M. Sellers, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll in Washington, D.C., and one of Alvarez’s lawyers.