South Broward teenager Diana Aguilar claims her first job turned into a testosterone-laden nightmare thanks to a local Chipotle manager who allegedly made unwanted sexual advances, called her a "slave," and nipped at her neck with his teeth while she was working as a kitchen employee.
Aguilar says the harassment began as soon as she started her job at the Chipotle restaurant at 1774 Sheridan St. in Hollywood when she was 17. In a recently filed lawsuit, she claims general manager Richard Johnson, who has since been replaced, "forcibly tried to kiss" her and her female co-workers and would refer to them as "slut," "slave," and "bitch." He would pet her head "as if she was a dog" and, on one occasion, asked her to perform oral sex on him in the middle of a work conversation, she claims.
According to the lawsuit, Johnson once put Aguilar's female co-worker in a chokehold, an incident that was captured on camera. Her attorney, Gary Costales, calls the manager's alleged habit of grabbing and biting female workers' necks a "bad form of rough-housing." He tells New Times: "It was a weird dominance thing."
"A lot of this comes down to what the corporate culture is, what they do to rein in harassment," Costales says. "You have managers that are young and stupid, and the manager working over them is himself a young man... It's not a good recipe."
Costales says that although age and immaturity are no excuse for misconduct, he believes the company's decision to let employees in their teens and early 20s operate the location contributed to a deterioration of workplace harassment safeguards.
The allegedly offending employees "were emboldened once they got a little power," Costales says.
Chipotle has not responded to a request for comment. A onetime South Florida district supervisor for the company tells New Times he knew Aguilar for a few months and worked with the restaurant's general manager in various capacities for more than seven years. He says he wouldn't have given Johnson the job at the restaurant's helm if there were past harassment issues with him. In the short time the supervisor oversaw both Aguilar and Johnson, he received no formal complaints about the alleged misconduct, he says.
"I would never in a million years think [Diana] would make something like that up," says the former district supervisor, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, adding that he has no reason to disbelieve her. "I feel bad for the situation. In my eyes, they were both great employees."
A company code of conduct, meanwhile, states, "At Chipotle, no form of harassment is acceptable. This includes joking remarks or other abusive conduct (including verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct) that demeans or shows hostility toward an individual because of his or her race, color, religion, national origin, gender...
"Chipotle is firmly committed to maintaining a positive working environment for all employees, whether male or female."
Aguilar lists counts of hostile work environment and constructive discharge under the Florida Civil Rights Act. A count for alleged battery is also included. The restaurant identified in the complaint is location 2445, on Sheridan Street in Hollywood.
Aguilar claims she resigned in late 2017 because nothing was being done about the harassment despite her complaints. The lawsuit points out that another male manager who allegedly called her a "slut" in the workplace was arrested on charges that he strangled his mother in a May 2018 domestic dispute. The police record referenced in the lawsuit shows that the charges against the now 20-year-old man were ultimately dropped.
Across the nation, employees' claims against Chipotle have yielded highly publicized multimillion-dollar judgments recently.
A Texas court in 2016 handed down a more than $7 million judgment in a lawsuit alleging a 26-year-old Chipotle manager initiated an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 16-year-old subordinate. Another judgment, nearly $8 million, was awarded this past May to a California woman who alleged she was wrongfully fired from a Chipotle management position based on unsubstantiated theft accusations against her.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.