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Did Chipotle Try to Cover Up a Norovirus Outbreak?

New class action lawsuit alleges yes.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Chipotle's annus horribilis just got worse: The restaurant chain was hit with a class action lawsuit Tuesday. Filed by high-profile California law firm Robertson & Associates, LLP, the suit alleges that a Simi Valley Chipotle branch was aware a kitchen manager was sick "with gastrointestinal symptoms" for two days, and thereby infected customers with norovirus on August 18 and 19, 2015. Most damningly, the suit alleges Chipotle's corporate office wavered before contacting authorities and customers, and employees purposely concealed evidence of the outbreak before alerting health officials.

Ventura County estimated the Chipotle at the heart of the lawsuit served a total of 3,000 meals over the course of the 48-hour period, inflicting some 234 customers with headaches, fever, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. The class action's plaintiffs, six high school students and one parent who all ate food "adulterated with norovirus" at the Simi Valley restaurant, are seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.

Steve Ellis, Chipotle's co-founder and CEO, delivered a widely disseminated apology last month after outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus at restaurants across the country prompted other lawsuits. "From the beginning, all of our food safety programs have met or exceeded industry standards. But recent incidents, an E. coli outbreak that sickened 52 people and a norovirus outbreak that sickened approximately 140 people at a single Chipotle restaurant in Boston, have shown us that we need to do better, much better," Ellis' statement read, in part. Amid all this bad publicity, the chain has bold plans to win back customers.