Chipotle has agreed to pay $400,000 to three former workers at its Sammamish and Issaquah locations to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit, the agency announced.
The EEOC, which investigates claims of workplace discrimination, alleged in a complaint filed in March 2022 that young female employees, including a 17-year-old, at the two Chipotle locations were verbally and physically sexually harassed by two male staff members, ages 29 and 24.
Chipotle “knew of the male Sammamish store manager’s and male Issaquah crew member’s offensive and unwelcome sexual conduct towards” the teen workers, the EEOC complaint alleges.
The Newport Beach, Calif.-based fast-food chain is not admitting to wrongdoing through the settlement agreement, Chipotle’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Laurie Schalow said in a statement.
“We chose to settle the matter to avoid the distraction of continued litigation,” Schalow said. “It is our policy that all employees take anti harassment training, and moving forward we will be providing additional training within a patch of restaurants and to our Respectful Workplace Hotline team.”
The EEOC case is not the first time Chipotle was accused of mistreating young employees. In 2020, the restaurant chain paid a $1.37 million penalty in Massachusetts for 13,253 state child labor law violations between 2015 and 2019.
Nor is it the first time Chipotle has been sued for sexual harassment in the workplace. Since 2016, Chipotle has paid millions of dollars in settlements and judgments for sexual harassment lawsuits in Tampa, Fla.; San Jose, Calif.; and Houston.
According to the EEOC, a manager not involved in the harassment alerted the Sammamish Chipotle general manager in October 2019 that the 29-year-old worker may have been pursuing an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old employee.
The general manager didn’t conduct an investigation but advised the worker that she might be fired for a relationship with a service manager, and kept scheduling them for closing shifts together, the EEOC lawsuit states.
The conduct violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to investigate and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, according to the EEOC. New employees entering the workforce can be more vulnerable to harassment because they don’t have a knowledge of Title VII protections, said EEOC regional attorney Roberta Steele.
On one occasion at the Sammamish Chipotle, the service manager sexually assaulted the teen worker while closing the store and would trap female workers in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator, according to the EEOC lawsuit. Other incidents at both stores included inappropriately touching female workers and making sexual comments and requests.
“General managers of both the Sammamish and Issaquah stores knew about the crew member’s sexual harassment and aggressive behavior,” the suit states. Chipotle “assigned him to work at their Southcenter store pending their investigation of the harassment complaints against him.”
The 29-year-old and 24-year-old male workers are no longer employed at Chipotle.
Chipotle denied all the allegations from the lawsuit in an answer filed in April 2022.
Besides having a policy against sexual harassment, employers must either report it to human resources or investigate, said Nancy Sienko, director of the EEOC’s San Francisco District, which includes Washington state.
The $400,000 settlement will be paid to the three former crew members who the EEOC said were victims of sexual harassment.
As part of the three-year settlement, the company will also appoint a coordinator to review and implement anti-discriminatory policies prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation.
According to the EEOC, Chipotle will be required to provide additional sexual harassment training to employees and managers at its restaurants in Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah and Sammamish, and provide additional training to its HR investigators on sexual discrimination and harassment. Chipotle must also adopt accountability policies for supervisors and managers to comply with equal employment opportunity policies.