TAMPA, Fla.- Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. is under fire again, this time for sexual harassment negligence, and retaliation at the restaurant’s International Plaza location.
In a rare move, on September 10, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the publicly-held restaurant corporation on behalf of a former employee. They cite the company’s negligence to address multiple sexual harassment incidents between two employees and retaliating against the employee-victim.
In the lawsuit, it is divulged that Chipotle, through a third-party audit on May 22, 2018, continued to fail at food safety at this case’s Chipotle location, and proved inconsistent in ensuring employees received wellness checks. Chipotle’s violations resulted in the termination of the sexual assault victim rather than the manager who was accountable for the discrepancies according to Chipotle company policy.
Cassandra Jerome, the sexual harassment victim in this case, is a former Chipotle employee who utilized the company’s fast-track management program to rise from a crew member to a service manager at Chipotle’s International Plaza location. She joined the company in 2017.
A kitchen crew member, Lazaro Avila, is accused of sexually harassing Jerome, beginning with sexually-charged statements to her while she was working. “I want to sink into your a–,” and “Your breasts are so big,” are among Avila’s alleged remarks to Jerome. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, on May 14, 2018, Avila “cornered her as she was kneeling near a garbage can, grabbed her hair and repeatedly thrust towards her face in the simulation of a sex act.”
He is also accused of rubbing against her buttocks and pushing a large pan in between her thighs. These aggressions by Avila allegedly occurred two or more times every week.
Chipotle General Manager, Allison O’Connor heard repeated complaints from Jerome regarding Avila’s conduct, but apparently was despondent to Jerome’s pleas, only promising she would look into it. Eventually, Jerome told O’Connor she would take her complaint to the corporate office only to discover three days later that she would be fired on the basis that she was responsible for the deficient third-party audit results, although Chipotle company policy indicated she was not the responsible manager.
The EEOC determined there was “reasonable cause” to believe Jerome’s complaints and sued Chipotle after a failed pre-suit settlement attempt. The federal agency filed a “Failure to Conciliate” against the company, then filed the lawsuit, demanding a trial by jury.
A call to Chipotle at the International Plaza location indicated that both General Manager Allison O’Connor and Lazaro Avila do not work at this Chipotle location at the current time, but that O’Connor works at another Tampa Chipotle location on West Shore Boulevard.
The primary attorney for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. is Gary S. Kessler of Martenson, Hasbrouck and Simon, Attorneys at Law in Atlanta, Georgia.