Chipotle Customers File Lawsuit Claiming Company Tried To Cover Up California Norovirus Outbreak

It’s a new year, but that doesn’t mean Chipotle is going to be able to start fresh after the spate of outbreaks at its restaurants last year. Seven customers have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court yesterday claiming that the chain tried to sweep a norovirus outbreak that sickened 234 people who’d eaten at a Simi Valley, CA location under the rug.

The lawsuit seeks a trial by jury and unspecified damages, and was filed on behalf of six school students and one parent who fell ill after eating at the Chipotle location in August, reports NBC News.

The plaintiffs claim that a kitchen manager was suffering gastorintestinal symptoms while at work on Aug. 18, but allegedly kept on handling and preparing food until he sought medical help and was diagnosed with norovirus on Aug. 20.

That was the same day Chipotle closed the location and initiated a procedure that’s required when at least two customers complain of foodborne illness symptoms. But the chain’s corporate offices failed to contact health officials or customers immediately, the lawsuit alleges.

“Chipotle chose instead to try and conceal all evidence of the outbreak by disposing of all food items, bleaching all cooking and food handling surfaces and replacing its sick employees with replacement employees from other restaurants before notifying county health officials of the outbreak,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit accuses Chipotle of trying to make the whole thing go away because it was in the middle of a “public relations disaster” tied to a salmonella outbreak at Minnesota restaurants, and “wanted to protect its stock price from plummeting by putting corporate profits ahead of public health and safety.”

A Chipotle spokesman told NBC that the company wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, as a matter of policy, saying “we do not discuss details surrounding pending legal actions.”

He added that Chipotle “took all appropriate actions when this incident began, including reporting it to health officials in Ventura County.”

The lawsuit claims however, that Chipotle waited a bit to report that outbreak, citing the manager of the Ventura County Environmental Health Division’s food safety program as saying authorities “didn’t have the opportunity to sample food or do some of the things we normally do to investigate a foodborne illness outbreak.”

In the meantime, a grand jury subpoenaed the chain earlier this month to investigate the same California norovirus outbreak.

Chipotle announced yesterday that in an effort to keep sick employees from coming to work and potentially infecting customers, it will offer paid leave.

Lawsuit Claims Chipotle Tried to Cover Up California Norovirus Outbreak [NBC News]