“Too Much Estrogen” for this Chipotle: Women Vindicated Against the Odds in Gender Discrimination Suit

By: Nicholas Moneta

In the wake of a nationwide shutdown,[2] Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (hereinafter, “Chipotle”) was found liable on February 8, 2016, by a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.[3]  Chipotle was ordered to pay the sum of $807,000.00 to three of its former managers.[4]  All three managers claimed that they were terminated in violation of their civil rights[5] for one reason — being women.[6]  Originally, seven women brought this gender discrimination suit against Chipotle, which dates back to March 2013.[7]  All seven women were fired from their manager positions in the greater Cincinnati area.[8]

In August 2015, two of the women’s claims were dismissed on a motion for summary judgment after Judge Sandra S. Beckwith ruled that the two plaintiffs did not establish a genuine dispute about pretext.[9]  The five remaining plaintiffs survived the summary judgment motion[10] and eventually moved to trial.[11]  Although three of the plaintiffs won on February 8, two other plaintiffs are left to go to trial in April 2016.[12]  Instantly, the three plaintiffs (“Plaintiffs”) claimed that albeit their performance evaluation or audits being higher than their male counterparts, they were fired.[13]  Additionally, one plaintiff alleged that Chipotle violated the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993.[14]

“Gender discrimination” is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) as “treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of that person’s sex.”[15]  The law forbids this discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”[16]  One plaintiff, Reynolds, claimed that she worked 70-80 hour weeks and gave everything she possibly could into Chipotle.[17]

She was fired, along with others even though male general managers received worse audits and performance reviews.[18]  Not only did her male counterparts maintain their employment after these reviews, the men were not even reprimanded.[19]  Reportedly, one or more of the plaintiffs were told, “you’re too emotional” or “there sure are a lot of overweight women working here” by their male supervisors.[20]

Statistics show that proving employment gender discrimination in federal courts is incredibly difficult.[21]  The numbers are not by any means pro-plaintiff when it comes to employment discrimination lawsuits.[22]  Judgments tend to include much fewer dismissals prior to trial compared to other civil suits.[23]  Data further proves that employment discrimination plaintiffs win at a lower rate than others at trial.[24]  An employment discrimination case is also more likely to fail on appeal than any other civil appeal.[25]  Finally, the EEOC took 26,077 Title VII sex-based discrimination charges in 2014.[26]  Only 1.3 percent of those charges resulted in plaintiff success.[27]

This verdict is truly remarkable because the odds were highly in favor of Chipotle to win.[28]  Unfortunately for Plaintiffs, should Chipotle choose to appeal following the recent verdict, it is more likely to win on appeal than Plaintiffs are to preserve their ruling.[29]  One of Plaintiffs’ attorneys commented post-verdict, “We hope this sends a message . . . that gender discrimination is not good for business.”[30]  Prior to trial, Chipotle’s attorney commented that Plaintiffs were terminated simply because “they did not meet the basic standards of restaurant management.”[31]  The jury disagreed with this notion and sent Plaintiff’s above message to employers throughout America.[32]

[1] Matthew Bultman, 3 Ex-Chipotle Managers Win Gender Discrimination Trial, Law360  (Feb. 9, 2016, 3:40 PM), http://www.law360.com/employment/articles/756970/3-ex-chipotle-managers-win-gender-discrimination-trial.

[2] “Due to the E. Coli outbreak that has been plaguing the company since October [2015], Chipotle will shutter all its stores for a few hours on Feb. 8 for a national all-employee meeting about the plans to eliminate the issue . . . .”  Kevin McCoy & Katharine Lackey, Chipotle to Close all Stores on Feb. 8 for All-Staff Meeting on Food Safety, USA TODAY (Jan. 15, 2016, 3:05 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/01/15/reports-chipotle-close-stores-feb-8-food-safety-review/78841420/.

[3] Bultman, supra note 1.

[4] Id.

[5] 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (2012); Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4112.02 (West 2015).

[6] Bultman, supra note 1.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Reynolds v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. 1:13-cv-146, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108076, at *131 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 7, 2015) (granting summary judgment in favor of Chipotle dismissing claims brought by plaintiffs Meghan Verplank and Jennifer Hernandez).

[11] Bultman, supra note 1.

[12] Id.

[13] Fatima Hussein, Chipotle Liable for Discriminating Against Female Workers, CINCINNATI.com (Feb. 9, 2016, 9:44 AM), http://www.cincinnati.com/story/money/2016/02/08/chipotle-guilty-discriminating-against-female-workers/80016440/.

[14] Reynolds v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. 1:13-cv-146, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108076, at *76-77 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 7, 2015) (discussing plaintiffs claim under 29 U.S.C. § 2615 (2012)).

[15] Hussein, supra note 13.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Fatima Hussein, More Legal Trouble for Chipotle, CINCINNATI.com (Jan. 26, 2016, 6:00 PM), http://www.cincinnati.com/story/money/2016/01/25/gender-discrimination-case-against-chipotle-underway/79293676/.

[21] “From 1979 through 2006, job discrimination plaintiffs won 15 percent of such case, according to a 2009 study published in the Harvard Law & Policy Review. The plaintiffs in all other federal civil cases won 51 percent of the time, the study showed.”  Id.

[22] Kevin M. Clemont & Stewart J. Schwab, Employment Discrimination Plaintiffs in Federal Court: From Bad to Worse?, 3 Harv. L. & Pol’y Rev. 103 (2009).

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26 Hussein, supra note 20.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Clemont & Schwab, supra note 22.

[30] Fatima Hussein, Chipotle Liable for Discriminating Against Female Workers, CINCINNATI.com (Feb. 9, 2016, 9:44 AM), http://www.cincinnati.com/story/money/2016/02/08/chipotle-guilty-discriminating-against-female-workers/80016440/.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

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