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Ramirez-Cruz v. Chipotle Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 10, 2017

Maria Ramirez-Cruz, Plaintiff,
Chipotle Services, LLC, Defendant.

          Rachel Petersen, Esq., Rachel Petersen Law Office, Minneapolis, MN, and Phillip F. Fishman, Esq., Phillip Fishman Law Office, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

          Brenna L. Wolcott, Esq., and Jacqueline R. Guesno, Esq., Messner Reeves LLP, Denver, CO, and Kathleen M. Brennan, Esq., McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb, Chartered, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendant.

          Jeffrey R. Mulder, Esq., Bassford Remele, PA, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Messner Reeves LLP, Jacqueline R. Guesno, Esq., and Brenna L. Wolcott, Esq.




         On May 25, 2017, the undersigned United States District Court Judge heard oral argument on Defendant Chipotle Services, LLC's (“Chipotle”) Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 94]. Also before the Court is Plaintiff Maria Ramirez-Cruz's (“Ramirez-Cruz”) Objection [Docket No. 125] to Magistrate Judge Katherine M. Menendez's May 11, 2017 Report and Recommendation [Docket No. 123] (“R&R”) recommending that Ramirez-Cruz's Motion for Sanctions Based on Spoliation of Evidence [Docket No. 43] and Second Motion for Sanctions [Docket No. 69] be denied. For the reasons set forth below, Chipotle's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part and Ramirez-Cruz's Objection is overruled.


         A. Summary Judgment

         On August 27, 2014, Ramirez-Cruz started working as a crew member at Chipotle's location in Blaine, Minnesota. See Pl.'s Ex. 1 [Docket No. 101].[1] Shortly thereafter, Ramirez-Cruz began a romantic relationship with her co-worker, Jesus Gutierrez (“Gutierrez”). Pl.'s Ex. 2. [Docket No. 116]; Def.'s Exs. [Docket No. 96] Ex. F (collectively, “Ramirez-Cruz Dep.”) 30:25-31:8. In December 2014, Ramirez-Cruz learned she was pregnant with Gutierrez's child. Id. at 31:15-18.

         Ramirez-Cruz and Gutierrez transferred to a new Chipotle location in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. Id. 46:3-5. Ramirez-Cruz's first day at that location was January 10, 2015. Id. 47:22-24. Omar Renteria (“Renteria”) was the store's General Manager. Def.'s Exs. Ex. A (“Smiley Decl.”) ¶ 16. Heather Nicole Garbe (“Garbe”) acted as General Manager when Renteria was on leave between March 18 and April 28, 2015. Id. at Ex. D. The General Manager is responsible for creating the weekly work schedule. Smiley Decl. ¶ 15.

         On her first day of work at the new location, Ramirez-Cruz suffered injuries falling off a step stool. Ramirez-Cruz Dep. 56:12-17. Omar Cortes (“Cortes”) and Jackie Ventura (“Ventura”), who were the store's Service Managers, came to Ramirez-Cruz's assistance. Id. 56:22-24; Smiley Decl. ¶ 12. In completing paperwork for a Worker's Compensation claim, Ramirez-Cruz disclosed she was pregnant, which she believes first alerted Chipotle of her condition. When Ramirez-Cruz returned to work two days later, she avers that she was medically restricted from lifting heavy items. Ramirez-Cruz Dep. 76:1-7.

         1. Allegations of Discrimination

         a. Pregnancy-Related Discrimination

         Ramirez-Cruz claims that despite her lifting restriction, Chipotle required her to lift heavy objects. Ramirez-Cruz also contends that Joshua Moua, who became Kitchen Manager on April 6, 2015, actually made her lift more than non-pregnant employees. Id. 263:3-7. Ramirez-Cruz avers that although she was frequently able to find another employee to assist with lifting, often other employees were either unavailable or refused to help. Id. 76:8-24.

         Ramirez-Cruz also alleges Chipotle discriminated against her on account of her pregnancy by refusing to provide maternity pants and by not allowing her to chew gum to alleviate morning sickness. Ramirez-Cruz contends that she was unable to comply with Chipotle's dress policy because Chipotle refused to order maternity pants for her from Chipotle's website. Id. 137:6-20. Ramirez-Cruz also claims that on one occasion she was singled out for chewing gum while at work despite receiving prior permission to do so. Id. 85:11-88:15.

         b. Reduction in Hours

         At the beginning of her employment at the Cottage Grove location, Ramirez-Cruz worked a consistent Monday through Friday schedule, mornings and nights. Id. 47:3-12. In March, her schedule changed to Monday through Wednesday. Id. The parties dispute why her schedule was changed. Although Ramirez-Cruz contends the change was to accommodate her pregnancy-related sickness, she claims the change was not voluntary. Id. 47:3-12. Chipotle asserts Ramirez-Cruz requested the change to accommodate her changing child care arrangements. Id. 323:15-22.

         c. Removal from the Schedule and Eventual Termination

         On April 16, 2015, Gutierrez was fired. Id. 158:15-17. When Cortes made a social visit to Ramirez-Cruz and Gutierrez's home shortly thereafter, Ramirez-Cruz allegedly made comments such as, “why should I go back, when they fired my man” and “I'll make them suffer.”[1] Def.'s Exs. Ex. N (“Cortes Dep.”) 72:12-19. Cortes informed the other store managers that he did not believe Ramirez-Cruz wanted to work at Chipotle anymore. Id. at Ex. H 21:21-23.

         On Sunday, April 19, 2015, Ramirez-Cruz called Garbe to ask when she was scheduled to work. Ramirez-Cruz Dep. 169:8-9. Ramirez-Cruz claims Garbe said “I assumed since we fired [Gutierrez], we were going to take you off the schedule because we assumed that you weren't going to come back.” Id. 169:9-12. Ramirez-Cruz replied that Gutierrez's termination had nothing to do with her and that she wanted to be put back on the schedule. Id. 169:13-15. Since Garbe had already made the schedule for the remainder of April, she offered to put Ramirez-Cruz back on the schedule beginning in May. Id. 169:15-19.

         Gutierrez claims to have overheard a phone conversation between Garbe and Ramirez-Cruz. Def.'s Exs. Ex. M 33:3-13. During that conversation, Gutierrez claims Garbe told Ramirez-Cruz that she would try to shift hours from other employees so Ramirez-Cruz could get back on the schedule sooner. Id. Gutierrez also claimed to have overheard Garbe direct Ramirez-Cruz to keep calling the store and request to be put back on the schedule to return to work. Id. 33:23-34:4. Ramirez-Cruz alleges that she followed Garbe's directions, but her phone calls to the store either went unanswered or unreturned. Ramirez-Cruz Dep. 187:8-13. Ramirez-Cruz also alleges that she spoke with Renteria and Cortes about returning to work.[2] Id. 176:14-22; 191:20-192:8.

         According to Chipotle, phone records do not show any phone calls from Ramirez-Cruz to the store until June 30, over two and a half months after Gutierrez's termination. See Def.'s Exs. Ex. S (showing phone records for the Cottage Grove Chipotle). Renteria and Cortes each claim that Ramirez-Cruz never spoke with them about getting back on the work schedule. Id. at Ex. I (“Renteria Dep.”) 72:8-13; Cortes Dep. 18:13-21. And Garbe claims that she sent Ramirez-Cruz a text message on April 19, but she never received a response. Id. at Ex. L ¶¶ 6-8. Ramirez-Cruz admits she stopped trying to contact Garbe after April 19 because she believed Garbe “had something against” her. Ramirez-Cruz Dep. 170:7-12.

         The parties do agree that after Gutierrez was fired Ramirez-Cruz never returned to work at Chipotle. In a May 8, 2015 employment application for a different employer, Ramirez-Cruz stated that her employment with Chipotle ended in April 2015. Def.'s Exs. Ex. U. On May 18, 2015, Chipotle removed Ramirez-Cruz from their employment system. Renteria Dep. 37:9-17.

         2. Legal Theory

         On March 17, 2016, Ramirez-Cruz filed a Second Amended Complaint [Docket No. 26] asserting a single count of sex discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.04, subd. 43 and 363A.08, subd. 2. Ramirez-Cruz alleges that her removal from the schedule was based solely upon “sexist assumptions regarding the behavior of women without any regard to the Plaintiff's actual ability or willingness to perform her job. Specifically, [Chipotle] assumed that the Plaintiff would choose not to work anymore upon the termination of her boyfriend from the same store.” Second Am. Compl. ¶ 19.

         Chipotle moves for summary judgment.

         B. Report and Recommendation[2]

         Until the summary judgment motion, Chipotle asserted that Ramirez-Cruz's removal from the schedule was due to her failure to show up for her scheduled shifts on April 16, 17, and 18, 2015. Ramirez-Cruz disputed that she was scheduled to work those days and sought production of her work schedule to support her position. Ramirez-Cruz also sought production of her “Development Journal, ” a document purportedly maintained by Chipotle that shows employee progress and performance reviews.[3]

         Throughout most of discovery, Chipotle claimed that the paper work schedule was destroyed and electronic schedule data did not exist. Only belatedly did Chipotle reverse course and produce an electronic schedule, claiming that it initially withheld production because it was inaccurate. Pl.'s Exs. [Docket No. 70] at Ex. 12. As to the Development Journal, Chipotle never produced any such document, claiming it never existed or, if it did, it was no longer available. Def.'s Exs. [Docket No. 91] at Ex. B ¶¶ 5, 10.

         Ramirez-Cruz filed two separate motions for sanctions. The First Motion for Sanctions [Docket No. 43] seeks spoliation sanctions against Chipotle for the alleged failure to preserve the paper schedule and Development Journal. The Second Motion for Sanctions [Docket No. 69] seeks sanctions against Chipotle's counsel for Chipotle's counsels' conduct relating to the untimely disclosure of the electronic schedule.

         Regarding the first sanctions motion, the parties agree that the paper schedule and the Development Journal were destroyed pursuant to Chipotle's document retention policies; the schedule is discarded at the end of each week and the Development Journal, if it existed, would have been destroyed at the end of September 2015. Ramirez-Cruz argues that Chipotle had a duty to preserve the paper schedule and Development Journal and suggests that the failure to preserve the documents supports an inference of bad faith.

         The background concerning the electronic schedule is more complicated. In Ramirez-Cruz's initial written discovery requests, she requested broad production of employee work schedules. Pl.'s Exs. at Ex. 4. Chipotle responded with objections that did not disclose that electronic schedule information existed but was being withheld pursuant to a specific objection. Id. at Ex. 5. Chipotle's answer to an interrogatory request asking how work schedules are created and stored was similarly imprecise, failing to mention that a computer program called MenuLink was used to create work schedules.

         At the November 17, 2016 deposition of Cortes, counsel for both parties had an extended discussion concerning production of the work schedule. Although Chipotle's counsel began by maintaining that no electronic scheduling data existed, counsel eventually disclosed that schedule data did exist but that it was inaccurate. Cortes Dep. 33:17-37:15.

         On January 19, 2017, over two months later, counsel for Ramirez-Cruz learned from an attorney litigating a case against Chipotle in the District of Columbia, that Chipotle had introduced employee work schedules into evidence during trial. On February 6, 2017, Ramirez-Cruz sent Chipotle a deficiency letter addressing its discovery responses to Ramirez-Cruz's requests for her work schedule. Chipotle responded on February 10:

It is Defendant's counsels' understanding that the hardcopy schedules that are physically posted in the restaurant are disposed of at the end of the scheduled week. It is also Defendant's counsels' understanding that MenuLink, the computer program used to make the weekly schedules, does not maintain accurate representations of the schedules that are physically posted in the restaurant.

Pl.'s Exs. at Ex. 12. Chipotle promised to produce the April 2015 computer created schedule by February 17, 2017. Id.

         On February 15, 2017, two days prior to Chipotle's self-imposed deadline to turn over the electronic work schedules, Ramirez-Cruz filed the Motion for spoliation sanctions. On February 28, 2017, Ramirez-Cruz filed the second sanctions Motion.

         Chipotle did produce the electronic schedule information on February 17, 2017. This information shows that Ramirez-Cruz was not scheduled to work April 16, 17, or 18. Chipotle maintains that this information is not accurate. Chipotle offered Ramirez-Cruz the opportunity to depose a corporate representative who would provide testimony about the accuracy of the MenuLink ...

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