- Chipotle violated the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when a supervisor subjected a teenage Muslim worker to a “barrage of harassing conduct,” the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a lawsuit filed Sept. 27. The company also retaliated against the worker by failing to schedule her for shifts after she tendered her two-weeks’ notice, the agency said.
- According to court documents, the worker’s supervisor repeatedly asked the employee to remove her hijab — 10 to 15 times over the course of a month — saying he wanted to see her hair. The worker complained to the shift manager, who witnessed the conduct, according to the EEOC. While the shift manager once asked the supervisor to stop, the harassment continued. Eventually, the supervisor pulled the hijab from the worker’s head, resulting in its partial removal. The worker submitted her resignation the following day.
- “We have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind and we have terminated the employee in question,” Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, Laurie Schalow, said in a statement sent to HR Dive. “Chipotle’s engaged and hard-working employees are what makes us great, and we encourage our employees to contact us immediately, including through an anonymous 800 number, with any concerns so we can investigate and respond quickly to make things right.”
The Chipotle lawsuit may offer a number of compliance lessons for HR.
For one, management mistakes are a common thread in discrimination, harassment and retaliation lawsuits. A 2019 study by pelotonRPM found that many managers are ill-equipped to handle employee complaints. When approached with such a complaint, the study found, 41% of managers did not ask questions, repeat facts or clarify details; one-quarter did not explain that the issue will be escalated to HR; and over half did not explain that their company has an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy.
Managers need training to ensure they understand the proper steps to take, Chipotle’s own former director of field training said in 2019. Training is particularly important in that employees often report workplace harassment to their managers — not directly to HR.
While the worker notified the shift manager, the latter failed to report the issue to higher management, which the complaint said was in violation of Chipotle’s policies. The worker then reported her supervisor’s harassment to the field manager and store manager, but Chipotle failed to resolve the issue, according to EEOC’s complaint.
The complaint also noted that the harassing employee was terminated less than two weeks after the hijab incident, “not for his harassment but for engaging in a consensual romantic relationship with [the shift manager] against company policy” — pointing to complications that can potentially arise when employees engage in romantic relationships.
A June 2022 article for HR Magazine on inter-workplace relationships noted that such relationships introduce the potential for “favorable treatment.” Given that inter-workplace relationships are common — and often hidden — such complications may only serve to emphasize the need for proper management training.