Law360, Los Angeles (April 17, 2013, 3:31 PM ET) — A lawyer seeking to represent more than 26,000 Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. employees asked a California judge Wednesday to certify a class suing the restaurant chain because of its “clear corporate policy” of not reimbursing employees for new work shoes it allegedly required them to buy.
At a sometimes cantankerous hearing, plaintiffs’ lawyer Stephen M. Harris argued in favor of a motion for class certification, saying there was “clear evidence” that Chipotle deducted from workers’ paychecks the cost of footwear in its “Shoes for Crews” program that it started in 2007.
“Sixty-five percent of employees during the period had shoe deductions deducted from their wages,” Harris told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Barbara M. Scheper. “This is a pretty clear, simple case.”
But Richard J. Simmons, a lawyer representing Chipotle, lambasted the plaintiffs’ case, stating that the employees had “utterly failed” to show a systemic practice of reimbursement failures at its 235 restaurants throughout California.
“After more than two years of litigation, plaintiffs’ evidence is glaringly insufficient,” Simmons said.
Chipotle gave its employees the option of wearing free, slip-resistant Shoes for Crews “Crewguards” furnished by the restaurant chain. Employees also were permitted to voluntarily buy shoes from Shoes for Crews through payroll deductions and such deductions were authorized in writing, Simmons contended.
He also argued that more than half of Chipotle’s workers never participated in Shoes for Crews and those that did were reimbursed. He highlighted a math error by the plaintiffs’ legal team which showed that 90 percent of employees had their wages deducted for shoes when the actual number was 8.6 percent.
Simmons accused plaintiffs’ counsel of offering “grossly inaccurate and misleading statements” to the court.
In response, Harris admitted his mistake and said, “I plead guilty to not being a math genius. That’s why I became a lawyer.”
Robert L. Starr, another plaintiffs’ lawyers, criticized Simmons for making what he called “disingenuous” arguments and for highlighting the workplace failures of the lead plaintiffs, including one woman fired for fighting with a co-worker. Both of them are now members of the putative class.
“It’s just not right,” Starr said. “It’s sad and it’s shameful.”
Judge Scheper, who at one point admonished Harris for laughing while Simmons made his argument, said she will take the matter under submission and will issue a ruling within 30 days.
Former Chipotle employees Corina Munoz and Keresha Edwards sued the restaurant chain in October 2010, alleging it failed to pay for business-related expenses and issued improper wage statements to workers.
The plaintiffs are represented by Stephen M. Harris of Knapp Petersen & Clarke, by Payam Shahian of Strategic Legal Practices APC and by The Law Offices of Robert L. Starr.
Chipotle is represented by Richard J. Simmons, Daniel J. McQueen, Jason W. Kearnaghan, Cassidy M. English and Robert Mussig of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.
The case is Corina Munoz et al. v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., case number BC447232, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.