Restaurant chain Chipotle victorious in employee’s discrimination lawsuit
A California jury sided with Chipotle Mexican Grill in early February in a disability discrimination case involving a former assistant store manager, Lucia Cortez.
Cortez claims that, after years of fertility issues and trying to conceive without success, she became pregnant but then suffered a miscarriage while at work. She says that as a result of this loss she became severely depressed and required intensive medical treatment. Her manager granted her 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave after her unfortunate health issues.
When her initial 12 weeks of leave were through, Cortez requested another month off to, as she claimed, attend to a final appointment. Her manager gave her one “courtesy week” but no more. Cortez then called an employee benefits center and successfully got the additional month of leave without her manager’s knowledge or approval.
At the end of the four weeks leave, Chipotle asked Cortez for medical documentation that cleared her to come back to work. She did not provide any and was fired but told that she could reapply for her former position and keep her tenure and benefits.
Instead of doing that, she sued the company for discrimination based on its failure to accommodate her alleged mental illness.
The jury sided with Chipotle in court. It decided that Cortez’s health issues and disability were not the reason why she was terminated from her job, but rather it was her inability to provide documentation stating that she could return to work.
Asking for medical clearance to return to work from a health care provider after a period of medical leave is within an employer’s rights. As this case demonstrates, there are instances in which that can become very complicated.