- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2016

Chipotle was ordered by an administrative law judge this week to pay lost wages to a former employee who was fired shortly after he criticized the burrito chain through his personal Twitter account.

James Kennedy, 38, was terminated from a Havertown, Pennsylvania, location in February 2015, two weeks after he landed in hot water with management over his social media posts.

“@ChipotleTweets, nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members make only $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?” the employee tweeted.

Mr. Kennedy ultimately deleted the post after a supervisor told him it violated a social media policy that barred “disparaging, false” statements about Chipotle. Two weeks later, he was fired after being disciplined for a petition he circulated among co-workers that objected to the restaurant’s policy for employee breaks.

In Monday’s ruling, Judge Susan A. Flynn ruled that Chipotle violated the National Labor Relations Act by enforcing an illegal social media policy and directing Mr. Kennedy to stop circulating the petition.

“Kennedy engaged in protected concerted activity when he drafted and circulated a petition among employees, challenging the Respondent’s denial of breaks to which employees were entitled,” Judge Flynn wrote. “Although the Respondent argues that Kennedy’s activity was not protected because he solicited coworker support while they were working and in the work area, I do not agree.

“An employer may not prohibit employee postings that are merely false or misleading,” the judge wrote elsewhere in her ruling. “Rather, in order to lose the Act’s protection, more than a false or misleading statement by the employee is required; it must be shown that the employee had a malicious motive.”

Judge Flynn ordered Chipotle to offer Mr. Kennedy his job back and compensate him for lost work. Additionally, she said, the company must post signs at several locations acknowledging its social media policy violated federal labor law.

“If you want to tweet something about your personal experience at your job, do it,” Mr. Kennedy told Philly.com. “Tweet at your bosses and your bosses’ bosses. … Doing it publicly really puts the spotlight on them.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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