Nearly 10,000 workers are suing the fast food chain Chipotle over wage theft, claiming the $4.5 billion business routinely cheats employees out of earned pay. At least 9,961 current and former Chipotle workers have joined the Turner v. Chipotle class action, according to CNN Money. The case was filed by Leah Turner, a former Chipotle manager from Colorado, who says she was frequently forced to work without compensation.
Chipotle Class Action Gains Momentum
In their lawsuit, workers describe a time-keeping system, one they say was mandated by Chipotle, which automatically clocked employees out at 12:30 am – whether or not they had to stay later to close up the shop. The company’s policies, workers say, are in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law governing employee compensation and overtime pay.
“For at least three years,” the class action reads, “Chipotle has devised and implemented general policies and practices to deprive its hourly-paid employees of the compensation to which they are entitled.” Workers are required to clock out after forty hours per week, employees allege, but are forced to continue working off-the-clock.
From her own experience, Leah Turner says Chipotle’s allegedly unlawful pay practices are unmatched in the fast food industry. She’s worked at Burger King, Taco Bell and Denny’s, but “never experienced anything like” the alleged wage theft happening at Chipotle.
After starting at the chain in March 2010, she quickly realized that the company was intensely focused on reducing labor costs. Her boss would print out hourly reports to assess how store sales were matching up to labor costs, she said in an interview. If those numbers didn’t look good, Turner recalled, the store manager would walk up to an employee and ask them to clock out – but with the expectation that the employee would continue working. Worse, Turner claims the manager would go into the computer system and manually cut employees’ worked hours to meet a daily goal.
Rogue Managers Or Company Policy?
Chipotle has denied any allegations of wrongdoing. The company, which is not a franchise operation, has said it pays all workers the wages they are owed. Any deviations from proper policy, the company claims, are mistakes made by rogue managers. Turner, who eventually worked as a manager herself, says that’s just not true. On her account, Chipotle managers were instructed to short-change hourly workers for overtime pay in order to meet the company’s “budget goals.”
The employees’ other allegations include:
- workers were “required to work on holidays and were not compensated for this work”
- workers were “required to attend mandatory after-shift meetings, which occurred every night after cleanup was completed and which occurred off-the-clock”
- in some cases, “overtime hours were moved to the following work week [and were] improperly paid [as] straight time, but not time-and-a-half”
You can read the full lawsuit, filed as case number 1:14-cv-02612-JLK in the US District Court for the District of Colorado, here.
One former Chipotle worker, Demarkus Hobbs, told CNN that when he complained about not being paid, “Chipotle would threaten [him] with termination or would punish [him] by cutting [his] hours.”
Chipotle’s Legal Troubles
This isn’t the first time Chipotle has been hit by a lawsuit alleging labor violations. In fact, the company has been the subject of 115 federal claims over the last five years, according to an analysis conducted by the New York Post, far more than peers like Panera and Starbucks.
In one 2012 lawsuit, over 500 former Chipotle employees, who were classified as “apprentices,” accused the company of shorting them for overtime hours. In February, three women were awarded $600,000 by a jury in Cincinnati for being fired due to their gender. Several stores in California were recently accused of covering up the spread of a foodborne illness outbreak, which went on to sicken schoolchildren.
Turner’s class action, however, is the largest lawsuit filed against Chipotle for wage theft.