It hasn’t been a great year for the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain. First, a slew of food safety issues. And now a jury has awarded $550,000 to a former employee who sued the company for pregnancy discrimination.
A look at the case:
Doris Nohemi Garcia Hernandez worked at a Chipotle outlet in Washington, D.C., where her duties included preparing tortillas and salsa, rolling burritos, and assisting in the preparation of the vegetables before the store opened for business each day.
At the beginning, things apparently went well. Garcia received two positive employee reviews that indicated she was performing her work in a satisfactory manner. Her manager, identified in the lawsuit only as David, told her he believed she had the ability to move up within Chipotle.
But then Garcia told David she was pregnant. According to the lawsuit, upon learning of her pregnancy, David told Garcia that she had to announce to every employee in the store when she was going to the bathroom and that David would have to approve her bathroom breaks so that he could cover her work position for her. David did not impose these requirements on non-pregnant employees.
Upon her return from the bathroom, David would often yell at Garcia in front of customers and the other employees and ask her why she had taken such a long time in the bathroom. David did not yell at non-pregnant employees about bathroom use and David did not question non-pregnant employees about their use of the bathroom.
No drinking water
Store employees were entitled to a fifteen-minute rest break during each four-hour shift that they worked. After Garcia announced her pregnancy, David often prohibited Garcia from taking these breaks, even after Ms. Garcia explained that because she was pregnant, she needed these breaks to eat.
David also often denied Garcia access to drinking water during her four-hour shifts. Ms. Garcia objected to this treatment because of her pregnancy, but David ignored her complaints.
Finally, after taking time off work for a scheduled pre-natal doctor’s visit, David fired Garcia.He claimed he was doing so because she was “not giving 100 percent” to Chipotle.
Garcia eventually filed suit in federal District Court for the District of Columbia. After a four-day trial, the jury ruled that Garcia had been fired because of her pregnancy — a violation of federal law — and awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. Back pay and attorney’s fees will be decided in an additional court proceeding.