Chipotle Is in Hot Water

August 7th 2016

Aron Macarow

Chipotle is about to be pummeled in the news again, and this time it's not for giving people food poisoning. The burrito chain was ordered to pay a former employee $550,000 in compensation and damages last week after a U.S. District Court jury in Washington found that it had discriminated against her for being pregnant.

What happened?

The suit said that former Chipotle employee Doris Garcia Hernandez informed her manager in 2011 that she was pregnant. That's when things got weird, the suit alleged.

Hernandez's supervisor began forcing her to "announce" when she needed a bathroom break, saying that he needed to "approve her bathroom breaks so that he could cover her work position for her," the suit alleged. (Non-pregnant colleagues never had similar requirements imposed on them.) Worse, her boss at Chipotle also refused to let her leave work for necessary prenatal care despite repeated requests, according to the complaint.

Ultimately, Hernandez said that she decided to leave work for doctor's appointments related to her pregnancy anyway, despite not being able to get permission from her supervisor — and that she was fired for it in front of coworkers and customers.

This kind of treatment may not be right, but, unfortunately, it's all too common — including in the restaurant industry.

Only 4 percent of food service workers receive any sort of paid family leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. This leaves restaurant industry workers largely at the mercy of their employers when it comes to becoming mothers and continuing their jobs.

It's not legal to discriminate against someone based on pregnancy under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. But statistics show that this is still a huge problem, although some advocates are trying to make a difference.

Hernandez's case was a driving force behind Washington's Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of 2014, which was introduced by D.C. Council member Vincent Orange.

"The Chipotle case shed light on why the act was needed," said Manny Geraldo, Orange's spokesman. "The case was [a] catalyst for us to study the idea and take a harder look at some of the discrimination that pregnant women face."

This also isn't the first time that Chipotle has come under fire for gender-related discrimination. Three women, all former general managers with Chipotle, sued the chain for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. They won their case earlier this year.

Chipotle has not yet commented on the most recent verdict or indicated if it plans to appeal the decision. ATTN: reached out to the burrito chain and will update this story when we receive a response.

RELATED: Chipotle Sued for Gender Discrimination