A Supreme Court ruling that allows companies to restrict their employees’ ability to join class-action lawsuit against their employer is terrible news for thousands of underpaid Chipotle workers, according to the Huffington Post.
Last week’s decision related to the Epic Systems Corp vs. Lewis — another unpaid overtime case — supported employers’ right to force their workers to sign that any redress for violations — such as underpayment, discrimination and even sexual harassment — would have to be pursued on an individual basis, not in a group with other complainants.
For Chipotle, this news is probably Christmas coming early as it would help in allowing it to not reimburse thousands of workers who have launched a wage-theft case against it.
According to court records, Chipotle began requiring its workers to surrender their right to class-action lawsuits in August 2014. The legality was included in the company’s online application documents. However, not many prospective employees read the fine print when they are accepting a job and even if they do, not many, who do not have the benefit of a higher education, can understand the significance of that particular piece of terms and condition. Some people may even be fearful of asking questions that could lead them to be taken off the consideration list.
In 2014, around 10,000 Chipotle workers alleged the company forced them to work overtime and then denied them compensation for the extra work. However, Chipotle is now arguing 2,814 of the workers in the group lawsuit cannot challenge it since they had unwittingly relinquished their rights and requested the judge to take them out of the proceedings.
The judge has not yet passed a verdict on Chipotle’s request. However, thanks to Neil Gorsuch and the GOP-backed ruling of the Supreme Court, the Mexican food chain may soon be able to get what it’s asking for.
That means nothing good for the 2,814 Chipotle workers who signed off their right to a class-action lawsuit. Though the other 7,000 odd employees will be able to challenge the fast-food chain collectively, the others will have to pursue the case individually and privately. However, the problem is, workers in the fast-food industry earn low wages and their claims generally range towards the lower side, i.e. from a mere $50 to a few thousand, depending on how much extra time the worker has clocked in. If that’s the case, the lawyer may not be willing to take up a case that’s worth less than the litigation cost. Others, who may be able to interest a lawyer, may not pursue the case, fearing repercussions from a multi-billion dollar company like Chipotle.
This case highlights how the Supreme Court is willing to benefit influential companies at the expense of their underpaid, overworked, underprivileged workers.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst