Plaintiffs in Wage-and-Hour Case Against Chipotle Mexican Grill Get Court’s Approval to Amend Complaint, Expand Case

On July 2, 2014, Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn from New York’s Southern District granted the plaintiff’s motion in Scott v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. to file an amended complaint, which will convert four opt-ins to named plaintiffs and add four new state labor law class action claims. As of January 20, 2014, the close of the opt-in period, 582 plaintiffs had opted into the case, in addition to the two remaining original named plaintiffs.

The central claims in the original complaint are not unusual or complicated: plaintiffs allege that Chipotle violated both the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law by misclassifying hundreds of its employees as “apprentices” who were supposedly FLSA exempt, although in fact they did the same work as non-exempt crew members–preparing guacamole, chopping vegetables, making burritos, etc. Because they were thus misclassified, these “apprentices” allege that they were never paid overtime or spread-of-hours pay as required under both state and federal law.

On March 4, 2013, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding Jay Ensor as a named plaintiff, alleging overtime claims under the FLSA as well as parallel claims under Missouri state law. A class of Missouri Chipotle employees was thereby added to the existing class of New York employees. The newly-approved amended complaint will add new named plaintiffs from Colorado, Illinois, North Carolina, and Washington, along with new state-law claims for the corresponding four classes of Chipotle workers from those four states. The FLSA action already encompasses a nationwide class: on June 27, 2013 the plaintiffs’ counsel won the Court’s approval to send notification of the pending legal action to a nation-wide class of prospective opt-in plaintiffs.

As the judge explains in her discussion, the Court’s main task in deciding whether to grant leave to file an amended complaint, once the plaintiffs have used their one opportunity to file an amended complaint as of right, is to determine whether the parties moving for leave to amend their complaint again have shown good cause. This means they must have demonstrated diligence prior to filing their motion, which implies that the deadline to amend the pleadings could not reasonably have been met. In this case the Court concluded that the answer to this question was clear: while they might have been able to anticipate that new state law claims would be available when the lawsuit was filed, “Plaintiffs could not actually know the entire scope of potential plaintiffs until notice issued to the nationwide collective, until those potential plaintiffs opted in, and until the opt-in period finally closed.” The Court had denied the plaintiffs’ request, as part of their motion for conditional certification, for Chipotle to reveal all class members’ dates of employment and work locations along with their contact information; thus, the plaintiffs had no option but to wait for people from other states to opt into the lawsuit before they could bring actions under those states’ labor laws. Thus, the Court concluded, since plaintiffs’ counsel did all they could reasonably have been expected to do to find all class members as soon as possible, and “given the choice between litigating each claim separately or in the aggregate,” the law “favors the latter,” the proper decision in this case was to allow the plaintiffs to expand their complaint.

If you are an employee and you believe your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act have been violated, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.