Fired workers sue Chipotle for back pay
Two of the workers abruptly fired by Chipotle last year in the wake of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit have now filed a class-action lawsuit against the restaurant chain, alleging that Chipotle failed to pay them their remaining salary in a timely way.
The suit was filed yesterday in Hennepin District Court by Tanya Cortes and Alejandro Juarez, two employees fired December 13 from the Excelsior Boulevard restaurant. Juarez had been working for Chipotle for five years, Cortes for six.
The next day, their complaint alleges, Cortes and Juarez asked in writing for the wages they were still owed. Minnesota law requires that fired workers be paid their outstanding wages within 24 hours. But according to the complaint, Chipotle didn't settle up with Cortes and Juarez for more than a week.
While Cortes and Juarez are the only two plaintiffs named in the suit, they claim there may be as many as 50 other fired Chipotle workers in the same boat.
That's just a fraction of the total workers fired in the immigration purge last December. Worker advocates claim that as many as 700 workers were fired for suspicion over their immigration status. Chipotle says that number is inflated, and the real figure is closer to half that.
Chipotle workers and their allies in the Service Employees International Union have launched an escalating campaign of protests against Chipotle in the last month, but the restaurant chain says it's hands are tied: federal investigators audited the work papers for Chipotle's Minnesota employees, and told the company if it didn't get rid of the ones without proper work papers, it would face substantial fines.
Under the Obama administration, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been relying less on the spectacular workplace raids common under Bush, and more on "paper raids" like the one conducted at Chipotle.
The agency is notoriously secretive, and has refused to comment on its Chipotle investigation. When MPR requested a list of all the agency's immigration audits in the state, ICE responded with a list that included only "closed cases."
Those offenders were all in the food industry: Wok and Roll, McDonalds, KK Cafe, and Koch Foods, a frozen-chicken supplier.
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