It's been a rough year for Chipotle. First, it had to overcome a serious contaminated food dilemma. And now, although it's a local case, the restaurant chain lost a $550,000 lawsuit filed by a former employee at a Washington D.C. location who said she was let go simply because she became pregnant.
According to a Washington Business Journal report, a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia awarded Doris Garcia Hernandez over a half million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages after determining that her Chipotle manager truly fired her because she was pregnant.
Chipotle had other news announced this week as well, revealing expanded tuition benefits to help employees pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees. With the expansion, Chipotle workers (about 60,000 nationwide in 2,000 restaurants) will be able to take undergraduate and graduate-level classes online from various schools across the country at little to no cost. Workers can also earn a GED or study English as a second language.
The basic facts of the case indicated that once she told her manager she was pregnant, he began restricting her access to water and bathroom breaks. But it didn't end there. He also refused to allow Garcia's request to leave work early for a pre-natal doctor’s appointment, and when she left anyway he fired her in front of other employees the next day.
Executive Director Jonathan Smith, of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, which helped Garcia with her case, said his organization was grateful to the jury for vindicating the rights of its client to be free from pregnancy discrimination and to send a message to other employers that this practice is intolerable.
A simple read of the EEOC's Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and a recent Supreme Court ruling make it clear that watching for this type of discrimination is one of the EEOC's recent areas of focus.
On the tuition benefit front, Chipotle now offers tuition reimbursement of up to $5,250 annually for workers that have been with the chain for at least a year, and qualified students may also earn an additional $5,815 in federal grants. The benefit was expanded to include hourly workers in 2015.