Delco Man Scores Huge Legal Win Against Chipotle After Chain Fired Him

He was fired after criticizing the company on Twitter and trying to get other employees to sign a petition.

Upper Darby's James Kennedy (via Facebook)

Upper Darby’s James Kennedy (Facebook profile image)

After getting a job washing dishes and working the counter at the Havertown location of Chipotle, it didn’t take Upper Darby’s James Kennedy long to rock the boat. He repeatedly criticized Chipotle on Twitter. He tried to get fellow employees to sign a petition about work breaks there. And then he found himself out of a job. Well, on Tuesday, a Philadelphia judge told Chipotle that the company needed to offer Kennedy his job back — with back pay, no less.

The whole mess began in January 2015. With much of the northeast walloped by a major snowstorm, Kennedy tweeted a news article about low-wage workers having to work during dangerous, snowy conditions when other workers had snow days, and in his tweet, he took a jab at Chipotle’s communications director Chris Arnold, asking, “Snow day for ‘top performers’ Chris Arnold?”

In addition to taking aim at Chipotle’s senior management, Kennedy also had some things to say to Chipotle customers on Twitter. After one customer tweeted in appreciation for a free Chipotle offer, Kennedy replied: “nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members only make $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?”

Naturally, Chipotle’s social media people did not appreciate Kennedy’s Twitter activity, so the head of social media for the company got in touch with Kennedy’s manager at the Havertown store. The manager confronted Kennedy over the tweets and talked to him about Chipotle’s social media policy, and Kennedy took the tweets down after she asked him to.

Just two weeks later, Kennedy was trying to drum up support for a petition about work breaks at Chipotle. A manager at the Havertown Chipotle got wind of the petition and called Kennedy into her office, asking him to stop circulating it. Things got heated, with Kennedy raising his voice at the manager, and she asked him to leave. She later testified that she was concerned that he might get violent, citing his background as an Iraq war vet. Shortly after the office incident, Kennedy was told that he had been fired.

Kennedy’s case was taken up by the Pennsylvania Workers Organizing Committee, which brought his plight to the National Labor Relations Board. Testimony in the case was heard last year, and on Tuesday, Administrative Law Judge Susan Flynn issued her decision, declaring that Chipotle was in the wrong. She ruled that Chipotle’s social media policy violates United States labor laws, saying that employees should be free to criticize their employers and that Kennedy’s manager broke the law by asking him to delete his tweets. The judge also found that the manager was wrong to tell Kennedy to stop circulating his petition and that his termination was illegal.

The judge instructed Chipotle to display signs in its restaurants, informing employees that its rules were against the law, and she ordered the company to offer Kennedy his old position and to pay him retroactively for any time missed.

But these days, Kennedy is working a union job for American Airlines, presumably making more than $8.50 per hour, and he told that he’d gladly accept his back pay in the form of meals at Chipotle. Chipotle has yet to comment on the judge’s decision.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.