HOUSTON (FOX 26) - A jury has awarded almost $8 million to a former Houston-based Chipotle Mexican Grill employee after she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit. It's being called one of the largest lawsuit awards of its kind.
A girl who worked for Chipotle Mexican Grill shared graphic testimony with the jury of what she says a manager did to her.
The jury determined that the girl was sexually assaulted and sexually harassed and that at least one other manager knew about it, according to court documents. The teen was awarded $7.65 million. She says the assault and harassment began shortly after she started working at Chipotle Mexican Grill on North Eldridge Parkway near Memorial Drive.
"In a matter of six weeks, her supervisor was bumping into her breasts, commenting about her breasts," says Ben Hall, the teen's attorney. "Other supervisors were using cameras to look at the butts and breasts of women at that restaurant." The teen says that was only the beginning. FOX 26 News will not identify the teen because the court is classifying her as a sexual assault victim.
"It was definitely hard for me because I was 16 and I never thought that was going to happen to me," explains the plaintiff who is now 19 years old and attends college. "I went there just to work."
"This little 16 year old was violated multiple times, more than 40 times, having sexual intercourse with a 26-year-old manager," describes Hall, the former Houston City Attorney during the administration of Mayor Bob Lanier. "Our allegation is his supervisor knew of it, did nothing to stop it."
Attorneys Hall and Adrian Villacorta filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Chipotle Mexican Grill. After a two-week trial, a Houston jury found the teen was harmed and damaged by inappropriate sexual behavior by her manager at the restaurant and the company has been ordered to pay the teenager $7.65 million.
"It's going to help other people to not be scared to speak out," says the 19-year-old plaintiff.
"This happens so often," explains Hall. "You have your children go into the workforce, you think they're safe but in the restaurant industry there is a higher percentage of females being violated sexually."
"It affected me in many areas. I definitely don't want anyone to go through this" the teen says.
"This child was being taken advantage of by adults. They should have been protecting her as opposed to preying on her," says Hall.
Chipotle Mexican Grill says, in part, "We care about our employees but even rigorous policies can't prevent relationships that happen away from the workplace." The judge in the trial reminded jurors that a 16-year-old can not legally consent to a sexual relationship with an adult.
After winning what's being called a history-making judgment, the female's attorneys are seeking criminal charges against the man who is now a former Chipotle Mexican Grill manager, but Hall says that man has fled the U.S. and is in Mexico.
Chipotle Mexican Grill released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
We care deeply about all of our employees, but even our rigorous policies specifically designed to protect our employees cannot prevent private relationships that happen away from the workplace during non-work hours, such as occurred in this case. We continue to offer our support for this former employee, and hope for her wellbeing. Chipotle goes to great lengths to provide safe and productive work environments. We have internal policies, procedures, and training to address issues and potential problems between employees if ever they arise. None of our employees were made aware of this relationship which took place outside of work. We learned of it only when the former employee's parents demanded money and filed a lawsuit, and by that time neither of the employees worked for the company any longer.