Until recently, Chipotle Mexican Grills has refused to reveal how many Minnesota workers it fired last year in the wake of an audit by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But a new filing with the Security and Exchange Commission lets the cat out of the bag:[jump]
"Following an audit by the Department of Homeland Security of the work authorization documents of our restaurant employees in Minnesota during 2010, we were required to terminate approximately 450 employees, resulting in a temporary increase in labor costs as we train new employees, as well as some degree of negative publicity."
"Some degree of negative publicity" is right. Since the firings, Minneapolis Chipotle restaurants have been the target of escalating protests and sit-ins that have garnered national media attention.
Though 450 employees is a far lower figure than the 700 firings claimed by dismissed workers and their advocates, it's still more than a third of the roughly 1,200 employees Chipotle had in Minnesota before the firings.
That's not the only bad news for the fast-casual restaurant chain. As the filing notes, the ICE audit has now expanded beyond Minnesota to include the chain's restaurants in Virginia and the District of Columbia.
"Termination of a significant number of employees in those or other markets or across our company may disrupt our operations, cause temporary increases in our labor costs as we train new employees and result in additional adverse publicity. Our financial performance could be materially harmed as a result of any of these factors."
Indeed, as news of the expanding immigration probe spread, financial analysts rushed to downgrade Chipotle's stock.
To top it all off, the Denver-based restaurant chain, which uses the slogan "Food With Integrity," has also been slapped with a class-action lawsuit alleging that it failed to pay fired workers what they were owed in a timely fashion. Chipotle denies those accusations.