Just when you thought the worst thing you could get from Chipotle was a generic pile of rice and beans and some intestinal complaints, a lawsuit filed by a former local Chipotle manager paints a picture infinitely more ominous: a regional manager referencing the television show Roots while threatening to hang a black employee from the downtown SLO Chipotle sign.
Before you issue the obligatory gasp, forget, and go back to checking your phone for Facebook notifications, I want you to really think about those words and the image they conjure: a black woman’s body swinging from a circular red corporate logo smack in the heart of “America’s Happiest City.” All because she asked her manager, after seven or more hours of work without rest, if she could take a break.
Best-case scenario: None of this is true and the woman made up this incident, along with a handful of others, and somehow convinced multiple other Chipotle employees—who have nothing to gain that I can see—to go along with her story. Best-case scenario: Regional manager Ben DeBilzan did not berate and threaten the store manager because she’s black. Best-case scenario: Chipotle’s higher ups did not ignore this woman’s repeated complaints against a man who deemed it appropriate to threaten to lynch an employee—even jokingly—for requesting a break.
Worst-case scenario: A favorite local burrito establishment helped demonstrate why San Luis Obispo can be a shitty place to live if you don’t happen to be white and wealthy.
Now we have to ask ourselves whether we believe this woman—in part because the accusations are so terrifically distasteful that we don’t want to believe that anyone would chose to behave the way DeBilzan is alleged to have, and in part because only a corporation with tortillas for brains would allow a racist bully to manage its stores after multiple complaints had been raised.
There’s the fact that other employees have corroborated this employee’s accounts—which include being forced to wear a nametag that said “Black Beans Rule.”
But is DeBilzan really that big of a bully? And is Chipotle really that thickly mired in corporate bureaucracy?
It’s difficult to answer the latter question, but blog posts DeBilzan wrote in April 2009 railing against “metrosexuals” are so filled with small-minded venom, it’s difficult to rally a defense.
On April 2 he wrote, “Let me put this out there. If you are not homosexual don’t act like it. Metro-sexual is a term invented by weak pussies who can’t or won’t stand up for themselves, homosexuals that could not admit to themselves or their families their true lifestyle, or artists that could not convey their personality in a way that our close minded society would understand … Where did all the REAL MEN go? Are we a dying breed? What happened to men being men? Working on cars, doing yard work, house work. Settling disputes without a lawyer, just face to face. Either with words or not but just one on one.”
On April 12 he followed that up with, “What is with Skinny Jeans? I don’t get them. Lets wear clothing so tight it shows all of our flaws and draw backs and makes us look like cracked out speed freaks. I mean come on. We are the fattest country in the nation but yet we embrace skinny jeans. Leave the tight clothing to hot girls there you 15 year old boys. And what the F**k are you thinking wearing those ugly things if you cant even keep your butt crack from showing. It is not appealing or flattering to see your plumbers crack, there is air coming out of it you slightly over weight 18 year old ‘metro-homo sexual boy.’”
Now even I will admit that being vaguely homophobic online does not automatically make someone racist. It does, however, indicate a proclivity toward petty judgment and, in my experience, the only thing petty people of this sort don’t discriminate against is bigotry.
To make matters worse, the employee also alleges that DeBilzan leveraged San Luis Obispo’s infamous lack of diversity by insisting that she would never get a job anywhere else because she is “black in a white town.” And while the fact that Chipotle won Best Burrito in our annual readers poll speaks volumes about SLO’s cultural homogeny, I’d like to think most of us privileged, pasty-faced SLOcals have the good sense not to interpret our skin color as in any way related to a person’s professional qualifications.
For my part, I think I’m gonna twist my guts somewhere else until the company either succeeds in disproving this former employee and everyone who has corroborated her story or takes the appropriate action against everyone who allowed a regional manager to terrorize his employees. Until then, the motto “Food with integrity” is nothing more than the worst sort of hypocrisy.
Shredder wants to know if you’re joining the Great Burrito Boycott of 2014. Send encouragement and cheese to email@example.com.