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$550k jury verdict for pregnant worker fired by Chipotle manager

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

After a federal court jury in the District of Columbia deliberated just three hours, a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant worker who was fired for taking leave to attend a prenatal appointment was awarded a $550,000 verdict. The verdict, which awarded $50,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages against Chipotle, followed a four-day trial.

Specifically, the jury found that the employee was terminated due to her pregnancy and was entitled to compensatory and punitive damages under Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. However, the jury declined to award punitive damages under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

The plaintiff began working at Chipotle Mexican Grill on M Street in Washington, D.C. in May 2011, according to her complaint. She worked in various positions on the food prep line. Prior to announcing her pregnancy, she purportedly received two positive employment reviews for her work and was allegedly told that the day-time manager thought she had the capacity to move up at Chipotle.

The employee informed her manager of her pregnancy in late October 2011, according to a press release issued by her attorneys. She claimed that upon learning of her pregnancy, her manager changed his attitude towards her and instituted a new policy that forbade employees from using the bathroom and drinking water.

The manager ultimately fired the employee when, after alerting him in advance of a prenatal appointment, he told her she could not leave work to attend the appointment, but she went anyway, the complaint alleges. Even though the employee had agreed to work longer hours at the manager’s request and received positive performance reviews, he fired her in the public area of the restaurant in front of other employees, ostensibly for “not giving 100 percent” to Chipotle.

After reading about the complaint, the D.C. Council passed the Protecting Workers Fairness Act to ensure that D.C. employees like the plaintiff in this case are guaranteed pregnancy accommodations at work, according to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which, along with other attorneys, represented the employee.

“This is an important victory for working women,” said Washington Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Jonathan Smith. “No woman should be forced to choose between a prenatal appointment and her job. We are grateful to the jury for vindicating the rights of our client to be free from pregnancy discrimination and to send a message to other employers that this practice is intolerable.”