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Chipotle rejects Mexican passport as ID: lawsuit

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc, which has fired roughly 500 undocumented workers as a result of immigration audits, was sued by a customer who alleged one of its restaurants rejected his Mexican passport as proof of age when he tried to buy beer.

According to a lawsuit filed on Monday in a Hennepin County, Minnesota, state court, Laurencio Valadez Estrada tried to buy a bottle of beer at a Chipotle restaurant in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, on July 31, 2009, when he was 37.

Valadez, a Mexican national, said the store manager rejected his Mexican passport as proof of his identity and age, saying several times that only a U.S. passport would be acceptable, the complaint said.

"My client felt particularly humiliated being a Mexican, at a self-advertised Mexican grill, who was denied service,' Bruce Nestor, a lawyer for Valadez, now 39, said in an interview.

The lawsuit accuses Chipotle of discrimination based on national origin and race, and violating a Minnesota law allowing a foreign national's passport as proof of age to buy an alcoholic beverage.

It seeks unspecified damages plus an order that could require Chipotle to improve training. Nestor said he is unaware of similar cases against the Denver-based burrito chain.

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold declined to discuss details of the lawsuit, but said the company will defend itself vigorously.

Chipotle has fired roughly 500 workers as a result of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement audits of its hiring paperwork in Minnesota, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Co-Chief Executive Monty Moran said on April 20 the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. had opened a criminal investigation and asked for documents related to the audits.

The case is Valadez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc, Minnesota District Court, County of Hennepin, No. 27-CV-11-CIVIL.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Andre Grenon and Richard Chang)