Employees can’t stop suing Chipotle

New York Post Lisa Fickenscher
March 23, 2016

The only thing longer than the lunchtime lines at your local Chipotle Mexican Grill, it seems, is the line of employees who have queued up to sue the burrito chain for various labor law violations.

Over the past five years, Chipotle has been hit with 115 federal employee lawsuits about 4.85 legal actions per 100 stores, more than three times the rate of two of its peers, Panera Bread and Starbucks, according to analysis of lawsuit data by The Post.

Of the 115 suits filed against Chipotle from July 2011 through Feb. 29, 2016, most alleged discrimination. Thirty-five of the suits are still active, records show.

It’s striking how many cases and class-action complaints there are against Chipotle, ” said Justin Swartz, a lawyer with Outten & Golden, which is representing more than 500 former Chipotle managers-in-training, so-called apprentices, ” who claim they were not paid overtime. That case, filed in 2012, is still pending.

Chipotle’s stock has fallen 31 percent in the past 12 months as the chain has been rocked by a series of E. coli and norovirus cases that have sickened more than 100 customers in nine states across the country and sullied Chipotle’s reputation as being slow to respond to the crisis and take responsibility for it.

While there is no evidence linking Chipotle’s alleged employment practice shortcomings to these recent illness outbreaks, industry experts point to research showing that employees of restaurants with high levels of labor law violations work under conditions that can make customers sick.

The Denver-based burrito chain’s meteoric rise to restaurant darling, with some 2,000 stores and a once-rich stock price closing at $471.76, up 2 percent, on Tuesday came at a cost, say former and current employees.

Workers were underpaid, fired without just cause and discriminated against, their suits said.

These costs were overshadowed, these people claim, as Chipotle was praised for its policies for promoting from within, offering health insurance and, more recently, sick pay.

In February, a jury in Cincinnati ruled in favor of three women former general managers at three Chipotle stores awarding them $600,000 in damages for wrongful termination based on their gender, including one woman who was fired three months after returning to work from maternity leave (and one of her twins died shortly after birth).

Those women were fired in 2011 and 2012, and a second trial involving two more Cincinnati women who were fired begins next month, according to their lawyers.

What’s more, the company was and may still be the subject of federal investigations dating back to 2010, when Chipotle had to let go 450 employees in Minnesota because they were undocumented workers. The investigations by the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Immigration and Customs Enforcement expanded to Washington, DC, and Virginia, but has not resulted in fines, penalties or charges, a Chipotle spokesman said.

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