Chipotle’s Legal Woes Continue As Employees, Customers Fall Ill
U.S. federal prosecutors served Chipotle Mexican Grill a subpoena on July 19th seeking information related to a suspected norovirus outbreak causing many employees and customers to fall ill at a Sterling, Virginia, restaurant. The restaurant was temporarily closed last week.
The subpoena is part of an ongoing criminal investigation initiated by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California who investigated salmonella, norovirus and E. Coli outbreaks at outlets back in 2015 which caused more than 100 people to get sick across multiple states, namely Massachusetts, California, Virginia, and Texas.
More than 100 locations had reported norovirus symptoms on a crowd-sourcing site, iwaspoisoned. The site “is for people who love to eat out but don’t expect to be ill because of it. It is a consumer led website for diners to report suspected food poisoning or bad food experiences”.
Chipotle had indicated an ill employee caused the outbreak and said it was retraining its kitchen crews on the importance of food safety and of using precautions at all times. In a statement, the company indicated it planned to “fully cooperate with the investigation,” which also includes reports of a rat falling into one customer’s lunch at a Dallas location.
As part of that Attorney’s office probe, Chipotle was asked to supply several documents and information regarding its food safety practices dating as far back as January 2013. “It is not possible at this time to determine whether we will incur or to reasonably estimate the amount of, any fines or penalties in connection with the investigation,” the company released in a statement, adding it doesn’t know whether it would incur fines or penalties at all at this point.
The Mexican eatery has also been under heat this year for a lawsuit claiming it owes its employees unpaid overtime pay. The chain has been accused of not paying overtime to staff who work more than 40 hours a week, earning under $47,476 annually. The law was meant to take effect back in December of last year, but an injunction prevented it from going through. A complaint was filed last month in an attempt to make the employer responsible for issuing time and a half regardless of the push back.
“There’s been no finding that the rule is unlawful,” said Joseph Sellers, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, the law firm representing the lead plaintiff, Carmen Alvarez. “We think the rule went into effect and that companies should be paying people overtime.” Some locations independently decided to head off litigation by complying with the regulations despite the decision in December.
Alvarez, a 55-year-old grandmother who worked at an East Hanover, N.J., Chipotle for four years, consistently logging more than 40 hours each week, has said, “I was crushed when Chipotle went back on its promise to pay me and other co-workers the overtime that we worked so hard for.” If the lawsuit is successful, it could affect up to 4.2 million employees.
The company’s stock has been in flux given its legal calamities. It dipped more than 3 percent last Thursday.