Chipotle's Latest Legal Battle Has Nothing to Do With E. Coli

The chain went to court in Cincinnati this week over a gender-discrimination lawsuit.
A restaurant worker fills an order at a Chipotle restaurant. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Jan 27, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Less than three months after Chipotle was hit with multiple lawsuits from customers alleging they contracted E. coli or norovirus from the food, the Mexican chain is facing another legal challenge—this time from former employees.

On Monday, a trial began in Cincinnati for a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed by three former Chipotle general managers, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. The lawsuit alleges that the women were wrongfully terminated by a manager whom they say gave better treatment to men who were employed in the same role, despite that the women scored higher marks on performance evaluations.

The three women all worked at separate stores in the greater Cincinnati area but shared the same supervisor, Brian Mobbs, and team director, Brian Patterson. In court, Mobbs was described as commenting to at least one of his female hires that she was too emotional and that the women he worked with were overweight.

RELATED: Chipotle's Strategy to Win Back Customers: Free Burritos

Plaintiffs Stephanie Ochoa and Tina Reynolds both said they'd either been promoted or had earned high praise from their supervisors just months before being fired and replaced by a male employee. Tina Rodgers, the third plaintiff, alleges that she was fired in retaliation for taking maternity leave, in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Under the act, eligible employees of insurance-covered companies are entitled to job protection while taking unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks during a year, including for the birth of a child.

A lawyer for Chipotle argued that Mobbs hired and fired employees regardless of their gender. She cited negative performance reviews when reasoning that Ochoa, Reynolds, and Rodgers were terminated because they didn't meet the standards of the restaurant management.

Gender-discrimination lawsuits against restaurants are not uncommon, and research suggests sexual harassment is pervasive in the industry. More than half of female restaurant workers surveyed last year by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United said they'd experienced sexual teasing, jokes, or comments from management. Male employees were not immune to these complaints: About 41 percent said they'd been sexually teased by a supervisor, according to the same survey.

The Cincinnati lawsuit comes on the heels of a number of lawsuits filed against Chipotle relating to E. coli and norovirus outbreaks that sickened 53 people in nine states late last year, prompting a federal criminal investigation in early January. Also this month, a group of Chipotle investors filed a civil suit alleging that the restaurant deceived stockholders about its food-safety procedures.