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Keesler v. Chipolte Mexican Grill, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California, Southern Division

March 3, 2015



DAVID O. CARTER, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Chipotle Mexican Grill Service Co., LLC, and Chipotles Services, LLC's (together, "Chipotle" or "Defendants") Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Motion") (Dkt. 33). Oral arguments were heard on March 2, 2015. After considering the parties' respective arguments, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendants' Motion.


Plaintiff, Elaine Keesler, alleges that while employed by Chipotle as a Kitchen Manager she was sexually harassed by a General Manager. Later, she claims that a separate General Manager terminated her in retaliation for reporting the harassment. Chipotle now moves for summary judgment as to four of Plaintiff's claims: (1) retaliation pursuant to Section 12940(h) of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"); (2) employment discrimination in violation of public policy pursuant to FEHA Section 1290; (3) failure to prevent sexual harassment pursuant to FEHA Section 1240(k); and (4) punitive damages. Chipotle maintains that Plaintiff has no evidence to show that there is a causal connection between her allegation of sexual harassment against one General Manager and her firing by a separate General Manger. Chipotle also argues that Chipotle took reasonable steps to prevent harassment pursuant to its "robust policies and procedures" to prevent and address reports of sexual harassment. Finally, Chipotle argues that Keesler's punitive damages claims fail as she has not specified any officer, directors, or managing agents of Chipotle upon whose conduct the claims are based. Mot. at 1.

A. Facts

Chipotle is a chain of "fast casual restaurants" with over 1, 500 restaurants and 45, 000 employees. Decl. of Perla Lara ("Lara Decl.") ¶¶ 2-3. Chipotle offers tacos, burritos, or salads prepared along a service line. Lara Dec. ¶ 2. At each restaurant, the General Manager/ Restauranteur is responsible for the operations and personnel decisions at a specific location. Lara Decl. ¶ 11. General Managers are expected to enforce Chipotle's policies and procedures. Lara Decl. ¶ 11. The General Managers, however, do not have the authority to change those procedures. Lara Decl. ¶ 11. Each restaurant is also typically staffed with one Apprentice, one or two Service Managers, and one or two Kitchen Managers. Id. ¶ 13. Each Chipotle restaurant is staffed with approximately 15-30 crew members. Lara Decl. ¶ 15. The Crew is responsible for various tasks in the restaurant.

Plaintiff was hired by General Manager Terrence Smith as a crew member at Chipotle's Lake Forest Restaurant in August 2011. SUF 1. She began work there on August 4, 2011. SUF 2. She was later promoted to Kitchen Manager.

On February 21, 2013, Restauranteur/General Manager Alejandro Campos called Apprentice Team Leader Perla Lara to report that he had caught Ms. Keesler and crew-member Alejandro Perez, one of her subordinates, with their pants down in a car in the Chipotle parking lot while Plaintiff was on a paid break. SUF 4. A few hours later, Ms. Keesler called Ms. Lara and reported that she had been sexually harassed by Mr. Campos. The two arranged to meet at another nearby Chipotle location the next morning to discuss the allegations. SUF 6. They met on February 22, as planned. SUF 7. During the meeting, Ms. Keesler described instances of sexual harassment by Mr. Campos going back to October 2011. Lara Decl. ¶ 47. This was the first time she formally reported any sexual harassment. Keesler Depo. 105:1-4. After this point, Ms. Keesler never worked with Mr. Campos again. Lara Decl ¶ 48.

At the February 22 meeting, Ms. Keesler told Ms. Lara that she would like to transfer restaurants because she no longer wanted to work with Mr. Campos out of fear of retaliation. Ms. Lara gave Ms. Keesler the option of several nearby restaurants to transfer to, and she chose the Mission Viejo location.

Ms. Lara began investigating Ms. Keesler's allegations directly after their February 22nd meeting. On the same day, she went to the Lake Forest restaurant to interview employees who worked there with Ms. Keesler and Mr. Campos. Lara Decl. ¶ 57. None indicated knowledge of untoward sexual behavior, but one disclosed having observed what she believed to be consensual sexual activity between the two. Lara Decl. ¶¶ 50-53. When approached that day about the incident, Mr. Campos immediately disclosed the fact that the two had engaged in a brief sexual relationship. Lara Decl. ¶ 54. Mr. Campos was suspended, and subsequently terminated on February 26, 2014 for violating company policy. Lara Decl. ¶ 55. Ms. Lara never spoke to Mr. Perez during the course of her investigation of Ms. Keesler's complaint against Mr. Campos. Lara Depo. at 38:6-22. However, Mr. Perez later testified that he never had a sexual encounter with Ms. Keesler. Perez Depo. at 63. As a result of her investigation, Ms. Lara concluded that Ms. Keesler had received favorable reviews as a result of her relationship with Mr. Campos. Lara Depo. at 35:2.

Ms. Keesler began working as a Kitchen Manager at the Mission Viejo location on February 23, 2013, the day after she met with Ms. Lara. SUF 8. Alejandro Arriaga was the General Manager and Karla Ayala was the Apprentice at the Mission Viejo restaurant at the time. SUF 9. Mr. Arriaga quit, and Ms. Ayala was then promoted to General Manager of Mission Viejo. Ayala Decl. ¶ 7. After that, Adrian Montano transferred to Mission Viejo and began working as Apprentice there. Montano Depo. at 10:23-11:5.

Ms. Ayala was under the impression that Ms. Keesler had been transferred consistent with Chipotle's model of having two Kitchen Managers at each restaurant. SUF 10. Chipotle maintains that Ms. Ayala was unaware of Ms. Keesler's allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Campos at the time of that transfer, nor that the transfer was connected to the accusation of sexual harassment. Ayala Decl. ¶ 12. Mr. Montano was transferred after Ms. Keesler began at the Mission Viejo location, and reports that he was not aware that Ms. Keesler had accused Mr. Campos of sexual harassment or that this report was connected to Mr. Campos's termination. Montana Depo 10:23-11:5. Neither Mr. Montana nor Ms. Ayala were friends with Mr. Campos. SUF 14-15, 21-22, Montano Depo. at 19:22-20:8, Ayala Decl. ¶ 32.

On March 12, 2013, Ms. Keesler failed to attend a Respectful Workplace Training Class, leading to a March 19, 2013 Performance Discussion with Ms. Lara. SUF 24. According to Ms. Keesler, she believed that she was excused from attending the meeting. Keesler Depo. at 138:9-140-4. In April and May of 2013, Ms. Keesler was given a number of Performance Discussions and negative comments on her performance review. On April 14, 2013, Plaintiff was given a Performance Discussion for failing to complete her preparatory task and to return from break by the 6 p.m. dinner rush (according to the Discussion, she had been warned twice before about returning on time). SUF 27-28. On May 20, 2013, Ms. Keesler received a Performance Review dated April 10, 2013. SUF 29. In the Review, Ms. Keesler was warned about "burning fajitas" and "running out of meat when working the grill, " and was criticized for her inability to communicate effectively with her crew. SUF 30-31. She was also warned that she needs to "have a positive attitude, " be "willing to take feedback" and "be able to finish task on time and not let the restaurant get dirty." SUF 33.

Chipotle reports that on May 14, 2013, Ms. Keesler "ran out of rice" leading to wait time for the customers. SUF 35; Keesler Depo. at 147:14. On May 15, 2013, as a result of the rice incident, Ms. Keesler received another Performance Discussion and was suspended. SUF 36. ...

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