ANGLETON, Texas (CN) — Chipotle repeatedly covered up for a manager who put a hidden camera in the women’s restroom, destroying evidence, muzzling employees and refusing to report it to police, a Texas woman and her child claim in court.
The woman, suing as MDG, says in the lawsuit that Joanny Castillo, a manager of a Chipotle outlet in Missouri City, Texas, was fired and charged with invasive visual recording after a spy camera was found, for a second time, in the women’s restroom on Feb. 27.
She claims that co-defendant Franco Diaz, the outlet’s general manager, repeatedly tried to cover for Castillo, and that the corporation, the lead defendant, let them get away with it.
“After management was caught twice by an employee, who is also a victim, Chipotle engaged in a series of attempts to cover up the repulsive invasive visual-recording scandal,” according to the Tuesday complaint in Brazoria County Court.
According to the lawsuit, the cover-up was wide-ranging and went on for quite some time.
“The cover-up includes, but is not limited to, the following: (1) attempting to blame customers for planting the recording device, (2) destroying SIM cards which contained graphic images of the women and children undressing and using the restroom, (3) mandating that none of the Chipotle managers and employees with knowledge of the visual recording scandal notify anyone, including law enforcement, (4) the general manager allowing another member of management to take the video recorder home in an attempt to destroy evidence and to undoubtedly engage in self-gratification from viewing the videos of the women and children undressing and using the restroom, (5) by continuing to allow the general manager who was involved in the cover-up to continue working in a managerial capacity for over two months after the invasive video recording scandal was uncovered, (6) by removing interoffice emails which advised a manager, who was a co-conspirator and close friend of one of the sexual predators, of the names of Chipotle employees and former employees complaining of the scandal that were provided to Chipotle by plaintiffs’ counsel in confidence in an attempt to resolve plaintiffs’ claims without resorting to a lawsuit, and (7) by refusing to notify any of its employees and/or customers, including children, who had no knowledge of the invasive video-recording scandal.”
MDG’s attorney Jeffrey Vaughan said he believes his client and her 5-year-old child were recorded by the hidden camera on Feb. 24, the day the camera was discovered by an employee, who took the camera and gave it to Castillo, who said it probably belonged to a customer and claimed to have returned it.
But the same worker found the same camera in the women’s restroom three days later, this time under the sink instead of above the door. The worker gave it to Diaz, who was the manager on duty, and, according to the lawsuit, the cover-up began.
Diaz took the camera home with him, and when another manager asked him about it, he acknowledged he had it and brought it to the store the next day for a meeting with upper management, according to the complaint.
But the camera was missing its sim card, the complaint states. When a manager decided to contact police, two other Chipotle managers — whom the complaint identifies, but not as defendants — said they should call Chipotle’s internal safety and security division instead.
“There was definitely a cover-up here,” Vaughan said in an interview Wednesday.
He said Diaz police the sim card, which Vaughan estimates had been running for two to three weeks, and contained as much as 20 hours of video.
However, the attorney said, Diaz erased much of the footage while he had the camera, and he cannot know how much until police conclude their investigation.
Chipotle fired Castillo, but retained Diaz as a manager for at least two months, the complaint states, despite protests from the worker who found the camera.
“If Chipotle truly cared about its employees, customers, and women and children who use their restrooms, it would have terminated the co-conspirator managers who were involved in the cover-up,” according to the complaint.
It’s not the first such complaint against Chipotle. In September 2016, a Harris County jury found managers at a different Houston-area Chipotle had helped cover up multiple sexual relationships between managers and employees, some of whom were underage, and ordered Chipotle to pay $7.5 million to the young woman in that case.
“After Chipotle had irrefutable proof of an unlawful sexual relationship between one of its managers, Chipotle received subsequent reports of the same type of sexual abuse in its other stores,” according to the new complaint, which cites other examples.
“As a result, more children were harmed because Chipotle simply does not understand the nature of these wrongs.”
Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said in an email Wednesday: “We were shocked and appalled to learn that one of our employees may have been involved in this incident. When it was brought to our attention, we took swift and decisive action to terminate that employee, and pledged our full cooperation with the law enforcement investigation and prosecution of the individual who is allegedly involved. It has always been our aim to work with individuals who may have been impacted by this issue to see that it is resolved, and that continues to be our focus. We maintain zero-tolerance policies for behaviors that compromise the safety and well-being of our customers or employees, and will continue to enforce those policies if ever they are violated.”
Vaughn is not persuaded. In the complaint, filed Tuesday, he wrote that he contacted Chipotle’s in-house counsel on April 11 to inform him that his clients “were victims of the sexual exploitation scandal. In-house counsel and general counsel claimed to have no information concerning the scandal. It was not until Chipotle was tipped off hours before local news channels were going to go public with the scandal on April 28th that Chipotle issued a statement.”
According to the lawsuit, that statement said: “We were shocked and appalled to learn of these allegations. Nothing is more important than providing a safe environment for our customers and employees, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for employee actions that compromise the safety or well-being of customers or other employees.”
The woman and her daughter seek punitive damages for privacy invasion, negligence, premises liability, pain and suffering, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Chipotle has more than 2,000 outlets, more than 45,000 employees and serves more than 700,000 people a day, according to the lawsuit. It adds that all of its outlets are company owned, not franchised.