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Chipotle: Serving food with integrity, firing without it, jury says

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Fast food, big money.

A California jury slapped Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. with a $7.9 million verdict in favor of a former employee terminated after filing a workers compensation claim, several media outlets reported Monday.

Jeanette Ortiz was a 14-year veteran of the fast food chain — whose mission is to serve “food with integrity” — and was considered a model employee up until her termination in January 2015 for allegedly stealing $636 in cash from a Chipotle restaurant’s safe. An attorney for the company said there was video evidence to prove the theft, but the company refused to produce the video when Ms. Ortiz asked to see the evidence — claiming it was against company policy — and could not produce it at trial because it was taped over.

Ms. Ortiz’s lawyers argued that the theft was a made-up excuse for the termination, which they said was actually related to her filing a workers comp claim for a wrist injury caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. They also argued the theft claim was not credible because Ms. Ortiz was making more than $70,000 a year and was in line for a promotion that would have boosted her salary to six figures, according to media reports.

Clearly, the jury wasn’t buying Chipotle’s version of the story. It only took four hours for the jury to award the mother of nine the hefty sum for damages for loss of wages and reputation and emotional and mental distress. The jury was set to deliberate the awarding of punitive damages on Monday when the parties announced they had reached a confidential settlement to end the litigation.

Chipotle has had a rough few years. The company has been criticized for poor food safety practices after several of its restaurants were identified as the source of Norovirus, salmonella and E. coli outbreaks, which pressured its stock price. In February 2016, the company closed all its restaurants for a food safety seminar, but that did not prevent another norovirus outbreak in July 2017.

In April 2017, Chipotle also announced that it suffered a data breach in its payment system earlier that year, with most of its 2,250 stores and hundreds of thousands of customers impacted as their credit and debit card information was stolen.

Hope those burritos don’t get more expensive.