Judge: Chipotle's social media policy violates US labor laws

HAVERTOWN, Pa. -- An administrative judge found Chipotle's social media policy violated federal labor laws while ruling in favor of a Philadelphia-area employee who was fired after criticizing the company on Twitter last year.

The Colorado-based fast-food chain must offer to rehire 38-year-old James Kennedy and pay him for lost wages, the judge ruled Monday. Kennedy worked at the chain's store in Havertown until he was fired in February 2015 and now has a union job with American Airlines.

The social media post that landed Kennedy in hot water came after a customer tweeted thanks for a free food offer in January 2015.

"ChipotleTweets, nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members make only $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?" Kennedy tweeted in response.

Kennedy took down the tweet after a supervisor showed him a social media policy that banned "disparaging, false" statements about Chipotle. But he was fired two weeks later after circulating a petition about workers being unable to take breaks.

Kennedy, of Upper Darby, was represented by the Pennsylvania Workers Organizing Committee, which has pushed for higher pay for fast-food workers. The National Labor Relations Board agreed with complaints filed by the group that Kennedy was unfairly treated. The case was one of several the NLRB considered regarding the social media rights of fast-food workers protesting wages and working conditions.

At a hearing, Kennedy's manager testified that she fired Kennedy, a war veteran, because she was concerned he would become violent after arguing with her about the petition.

Administrative law judge Susan Flynn ruled Chipotle's social media rules violated labor laws and ordered the restaurant to post signs acknowledging some of its employee policies - and especially the social media rules - were illegal.

A Chipotle spokeswoman didn't immediately return an email from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Kennedy said he'd happily accept his back wages in the form of food vouchers.

"You cannot deny that their food is delicious, but their labor policies were atrocious," he said.
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