by Ted Goodman
A congresswoman is going after Chipotle on allegations of wage theft in an an open letter to the Department of Labor.
Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro requested federal investigators launch a probe into claims by nearly 10,000 current and former employees that the company did not pay them properly for time worked. The claims were first reported by CNN Money.
“Depriving workers of the wages and earnings to which they are legally entitled,” DeLauro wrote in a letter to the department. Chipotle called DeLauro’s letter “misdirected.” “We have maintained from the outset that this case is without merit and will vigorously defend our employment practices,” Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said in a statement.
Exactly 9,961 current and former employees joined a lawsuit, known as Turner vs. Chipotle, which was originally filed in 2014. In the suit, plaintiff Leah Turner claimed that while working for Chipotle, she was often automatically “clocked out” of work before finishing.
The plaintiffs alleged Chipotle, “has devised and implemented general policies and practices to deprive its hourly paid employees of compensation to which they are entitled.” The suit also alleged Chipotle implemented the policy through “centralized, company-wide” budgets that incentivized managers to under-staff their restaurants. The suit highlights Chipotle’s automated time keeping devices that punch employees off the clock, even if the employee is still working.
The recent allegations and lawsuit will alter previous perceptions about how well Chipotle treated its hourly employees. Hourly staff are eligible for tuition reimbursements, and receive paid sick and vacation time, which is why Chipotle has been considered a top standard for how to treat employees in the industry.
The popular chain restaurant is still struggling to overcome last year’s E. coli outbreak, which levied a massive blow to its reputation. The outbreak sent over 500 customers to the hospital, and led to the closure of 43 stores.
The call for an investigation ups the ante for Chipotle, which is not alone in defending its reputation and brand against accusations of labor violations. Papa John’s franchises in New York City have faced a spate of wage theft suits in recent years, and a federal judge in California just ruled that McDonald’s can be held liable for alleged wage theft cases arising at individual franchises in California.
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