Safety and OSHA News

Chipotle settles after jury awards $7.9M to employee in workers’ comp retaliation case

Following an almost $8 million jury verdict, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. reached a confidential settlement with a former manager who claims the restaurant chain retaliated against her after she filed a workers’ comp claim. 

Jeanette Ortiz, a former Chipotle general manager in Fresno, CA, had received outstanding performance reviews during her 14 years with the company, according to coverage by the Fresno Bee.

In December 2014, Ortiz filed a workers’ comp claim for carpal tunnel syndrome. She continued to work until Jan. 18, 2015 when she went on medical leave.

While on leave, Ortiz was accused of stealing $626 in cash from the restaurant’s safe and was fired. The company said there was video evidence of the theft.

Ortiz denied stealing and asked to see the video. Chipotle declined her request and destroyed the video. Ortiz sued the company.

A 12-member jury found Ortiz wasn’t a thief, but was fired for filing the workers’ compensation claim.

The case went to trial because Chipotle offered Ortiz $1,000 to settle the case, but she asked for $10 million.

The amount the jury decided on was much closer to what Ortiz requested. It awarded her $7.9 million in her wrongful termination lawsuit for loss of past and future wages and emotional distress.

Before the jury could determine punitive damages, which would have increased the award, Chipotle came to a confidential settlement with Ortiz. One benefit of a settlement: It prevents the case from being tied up in appeals for years.

Both sides are barred from revealing the exact amount of the settlement, but Ortiz’s attorney did say it covers court costs, attorney fees and an amount that resolves Ortiz’s complaint against Chipotle.

Ortiz’s lawyer said jurors told him they didn’t like the fact that Chipotle didn’t have a corporate policy on how to conduct investigations or retain video evidence.

As more businesses install security cameras for various purposes, it’s important to develop a policy on video evidence.

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