May 12, 2011
The man, Mexican national Laurencio Valadez Estrada, just filed a complaint against Chipotle Mexican Grill this week.
In it, he claims that he was discriminated against based on his national origin because the restaurant would not accept his Mexican passport as a valid form of identification.
Because Minnesota law considers a Mexican passport as a valid ID to purchase alcohol, Chipotle should have accepted Valadez’s passport as proof of his age.
But does this really constitute a violation of human rights?
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, it does.
MDHR issued a probable cause determination in September 2010, which, in non-administrative terms, means that the Department thought Valadez had a pretty good case.
Instead of going through the next step in the administrative process – conciliation with the Attorney General’s office and Chipotle, Valadez opted to withdraw his charge with MDHR, and pursue private civil action.
Why did Valadez do this?
Because it holds the potential for him to collect more in damages.
Specifically, by statute, Valadez is allowed to recover up to $25,000 in punitive damages.
Make no mistake, though. Valadez won’t be able to get anything near that number.
Punitive damages here are capped at three times the actual damages, and Valadez is going to have a hard time proving actual damages.
I mean, let’s think about this. The guy wasn’t allowed to buy a beer from Chipotle. Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Could Valadez reasonably believe that the restaurant had something against his being Mexican?
It’s not like Chipotle wouldn’t want to sell more beer.
It’s likely that the cashier was concerned about selling alcohol to someone without an ID, which is almost certainly against restaurant policies.
Absent physical manifestations of his mental anguish and an extremely generous judge, Valadez is looking at nothing or next to nothing in damages.
And that, if my math is correct, would cap punitive damages at three times next to nothing.
So without the allure of damages, how did Valadez get an attorney to take his case?
It’s possible that Valadez is simply paying out-of-pocket for the costs, rather than having a contingency fee arrangement.
That is unlikely, though, considering that Valadez has not paid the filing fee with the county yet (normally due at the time of filing).
Most likely, the reason why the attorney is working this case is because Minnesota law allows for the recovery of attorney’s fees in this circumstance.
And, coincidentally, the complaint calls for them.
So while there are virtually no actual damages to speak of, Chipotle will most likely settle this case.
If they go to court and lose (which they probably would), they may have to pay not only Valadez’s legal fees, but also reimburse MDHR and the attorney general for all of their fees.
Chipotle, along with other restaurants and bars, will certainly learn a lesson here and give employees trainings to help prevent something like this from happening again.
It won’t be anti-discrimination training, though. It will be training on the acceptable forms of ID.