Lawsuit Claims Chipotle Covered Up Norovirus Outbreak

| by Diana Kruzman
Chipotle signChipotle sign

A class-action lawsuit filed in California on Jan. 19 accuses Chipotle of covering up evidence of a norovirus outbreak at its Simi Valley location.

The lawsuit claims that after two customers complained of norovirus symptoms, the restaurant failed to alert health officials in an attempt to keep its stock prices from falling, leading to an outbreak that affected at least 234 people.

The suit also alleges that a Chipotle employee continued to work at the restaurant for two days after he began experiencing symptoms; he stopped only after being diagnosed with the virus on Aug. 20.

Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus that can be spread through contaminated food, according to the CDC. The virus causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines which leads to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The condition can cause severe dehydration, especially in young children and older adults.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six students at the Grace Brethren School and one parent, all of whom ate at the restaurant in Simi Valley and fell ill shortly afterward.

The suit claims that Chipotle tried to hide evidence of the outbreak by getting rid of leftover food, bleaching cooking surfaces and hiring replacement employees to cover up its own. As a result, health officials found it difficult to conduct a proper investigation, according to the Tech Times.

"It is unusual. Most corporate offices will call us pretty quickly when they think they have a problem," Doug Beach of the Ventura County Environmental Health Division told NBC, according to the Tech Times. "If we had known earlier, we could've come in and taken food samples; we could have begun to take samples from employees and from customers."

Although company policy prevents Chipotle from discussing the details of pending legal actions, the company’s communications director Chris Arnold stressed that Chipotle alerted health officials once it learned of the outbreak.

“When this incident occurred, we took appropriate measures to address it, including notifying health officials in Ventura County,” Arnold said in a statement to Fortune.

Sources: Fortune, NBC New York, International Business Times, Tech Times, CDC / Photo Credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr