On Monday, September 26, a 16-year-old Houston, Texas, resident was awarded nearly $8 million in a sexual assault case against her former employer, nationwide fast-food chain Chipotle. After deliberating for just three hours, the jury ordered the restaurant pay the victim $7.65 million in damages subsequent to finding them accountable for the abuse she suffered at the hands of her 26-year-old manager Gerardo Solis. The young woman, whose name is being withheld because she is a sexual assault victim, first began working for the restaurant in 2013 in an effort to earn some extra spending money for herself. Soon after her employment commenced, she alleged Solis began casually touching her breasts while claiming his actions to be accidental. The suit stated the behavior continued, further escalating into him “grooming” her for a sexual relationship; in 2014, Solis began having unprotected sex with the victim “at the restaurant dumpster, in the restroom, in the office and other places.”
Despite the victim’s mother’s proclamations that she tried to intervene by contacting Solis’ boss, the abuse purportedly continued. On one particular day when she showed up unannounced at her daughter’s workplace, she asserted she was told her child and Solis were not there and was encouraged not to contact police by the store’s general manager; according to court documents, the GM “begged” the mother to keep quiet about the matter. Though the restaurant claimed the relationship was consensual and took place outside of work, the lawsuit claims the establishment maintained a hostile work environment for its young female employees where the store’s two managers would “have sex, kiss, hug, sexually touch and pursue intimate relationships” with their underage staff.
While Chipotle responded to the judgment by releasing a statement which read, “We care deeply about all of our employees. We continue to offer our support for this former employee and hope for her well-being,” the victim’s lawyer, Ben Hall, wasn’t buying it. Upon learning of the verdict, Hall said, “Chipotle’s conduct in this case was outrageous. Chipotle wanted to couch it as a relationship, but the jury was clear you cannot have a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old child. That’s why they call it a sexual assault.”
This latest verdict has added to the several setbacks Chipotle has dealt with over the last two years. In 2015, the company suffered a tremendous blow to their reputation after its highly publicized E.coli outbreaks left numerous customers gravely ill; the outbreak, resulting illnesses and damage to Chipotle’s “good” name lasted throughout the better part of this year. The corporation has worked hard (by spending millions) to regain the public’s trust regarding the safety of their products. However, in addition to the sexual assault lawsuit, over 10,000 former employees are currently suing the company for wage theft, having accused Chipotle of insisting employees work long hours off the clock without pay.
When speaking to the press about the exploitation his client endured, Hall said, “The unrestrained and unrepentant abuse of this child was unforgivable.” As for Solis, it is believed he has fled the country to Mexico in order to avoid being criminally prosecuted for his crimes.