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A viral video at St. Paul Chipotle turns into a discrimination suit

Five young men walked into a Chipotle, filmed an interaction with the manager, and became the subjects of heated internet debate for months to come.

Five young men walked into a Chipotle, filmed an interaction with the manager, and became the subjects of heated internet debate for months to come. Twitter

At the end of last year, a manager at St. Paul’s Grand Avenue Chipotle got internet famous for all the wrong reasons. A group of young black men came in for some food. She refused to serve them unless they showed her they had money.

They took video of the exchange and posted it on Twitter, where it blew up overnight.

Soon afterward, Chipotle responded. It assured that this was not how the company treats its customers and announced the manager had been summarily canned.

But it didn’t end there. Other Twitter users came to the manager’s defense. They posted what they said were screenshots of previous tweets from one of the young men, Masud Ali, some from as far back as three years earlier. They appeared to talk about dining and dashing, specifically at Chipotle.

“Aye man I think chipotle catching up to us fam,” one read. “Should we change locations.”

That prompted a public opinion whiplash. GoFundMe pages and petitions went up in the manager’s name, and the company hastily announced it would hire her back the next day. Over the course of a short weekend, the internet went from praising Ali and his friends to panning them as feckless thieves.

And it’s still not over. In September, Ali and his friends—Jafar Ahmed, Hamza Ahmed Billow, Dhulqarnayn Ahmed Billow, and Hussen Osman—served Chipotle with a complaint alleging the company had discriminated against them and engaged in a “smear campaign” that put them in danger.

It says the manager had only recently transferred to the Grand Avenue location and had never seen Ali or the others before—“or may have seen one of them once”—but assumed they were a repeat group of dine-and-dashers anyway.

The company reportedly claimed there had been a dine-and-dash incident earlier that month, with one of the plaintiffs involved. But the complaint says the customers’ credit card had merely been declined, and the manager had comped it. Nobody had fled from the scene.

It also points to a finding by the St. Paul Department of Human Rights, which looked into the incident and announced in July that there was probable cause to suggest there was some discrimination.

As for those previous “dining and dashing” tweets, the suit claims neither Ali nor the others posted any of them.

“Upon information and belief, [Chipotle] posted some or all of these nine tweets on or before November 18 and attributed them to Ali,” the complaint says. But even if Chipotle hadn’t posted the tweets, it says, it did nothing to “disavow” or “correct” them.

“They just let them hang out there,” the young men’s lawyer, Chris Penwell, told the Pioneer Press.

And that’s when things reportedly got ugly for Ali. For “several days” afterward, strangers on Twitter were calling him a “fucking dumbass,” peppering him with racist epithets, and threatening to “smack the shit” out of him—or worse—if they ever saw him.

“You inbred piece of shit hopefully you get run over and shipped in a body bag back to somali [sic] to your shitty family full of thieves and cowards,” one allegedly said. “Fucking fag.”

The complaint says even in London, Osman got clocked as “the guy who stole the food.” So they’re seeking financial damages for their “deep humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional distress.”

Chipotle answered with a resounding denial. Just because the customers didn’t “dash” earlier that month didn’t mean they weren’t trying to scam the company, it said, and “any allegation that it hacked into [Ali’s] Twitter account” was “patently ridiculous.” As for the Department of Human Rights’ findings, Chipotle “denies” its conclusions and calls the investigation “inadequate and incomplete.”

Little is known about the manager in the video. The company referred to her only as “Dominique,” and the lawsuit calls her D.M. According to Chipotle’s answer to the complaint, she doesn’t work there anymore.