If you go to Chipotle’s webpage, you’ll see that in addition to providing information about its menu, catering options and other logistics issues like locations, contact information and promotions, it talks about how it provides “Food with Integrity.” Wander into any Chipotle and you’ll see similar messages plastered onto its walls about how important it is to Chipotle to ensure that their food is “Responsibly Raised.” They put up billboards about how they are “Farmed Friendly.”
This strategy has generally worked well for Chipotle and CEO Steve Ells, who explicitly says that the strategy of focusing on how animals are treated is designed to target Millennials who are “more concerned” about those things than prior generations.
Unfortunately, Chipotle has apparently made the strategic assessment that Millennials will care less about how their employees are treated. Specifically, their female employees.
This week, a trial began on behalf of three women, all of whom had served as General Managers for Chipotle. These women — Elizabeth Rogers, Tina Reynolds, and Stephanie Ochoa – collectively had dedicated approximately 17 years of their careers to the Company. All were solid performers whose locations had garnered strong reviews by Chipotle’s inner assessment mechanisms.
The evidence recounted in the jointly filed pretrial statement [click here to read it – the first few pages are straightforward and pretty easy to read] indicates that the women in this suit have a strong case. Any jury is likely going to take note of the fact that Chipotle terminated these women but retained other men — despite the fact that the men’s performance was measured by Chipotle to be weaker. How much weaker? The men noted in the suit were regularly getting “Ds” – the female plaintiffs were regularly getting “Bs” and “Cs.” And yes, at Chipotle, like at school, Bs and Cs are better than Ds. In layman’s terms, the women were meeting to exceeding expectations, while the men were only partially meeting expectations. The women got fired. The men didn’t. As I’ve written about previously, if you discipline men and women differently for similar performance, that’s discrimination.
That, in combination with evidence about Chipotle’s senior leadership complaining about women-led stores as having “too much estrogen,” and telling one of the Plaintiffs to try and hire more men strongly suggests that gender was driving these terminations.
The Plaintiffs have an uphill battle, though. They have to get a unanimous jury. If even one person decides they don’t want to vote for the women (for whatever secret reason –good or bad – they don’t have to share), the Plaintiffs won’t “win” at trial.
Whatever the jury decides, though, Chipotle has lost here.
First, the three plaintiffs together had dedicated more than fifteen years to Chipotle and had, according to Chipotle’s own assessments, served the Company well. Their sudden terminations represent loss of significant institutional knowledge and expertise. Any good leader knows that losing talent like that has far-reaching costs.
“Chipotle seems to care more about how its pigs are treated than how its female employees are treated.”
Equally if not more important is what this means for its reputation. As I noted above, Chipotle is a company that has invested significant time in branding itself as caring about more than just the bottom line – about being friendly and responsible and humane. This suit exposes the fact that its “commitment” to those values doesn’t permeate the organization. Instead, Chipotle seems to care more about how its pigs are treated than how its female employees are treated.
Elizabeth Rogers, Tina Reynolds, and Stephanie Ochoa weren’t treated in a friendly, responsible or humane manner. Here’s hoping that CEO Ells was right that younger generations care enough about these things to vote with their dollars. Let’s make Chipotle earn back our business. #EarnBackOurBusiness #WomenCount