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Jul 22, 2014 9:56 PM by KSBY News Team

San Luis Obispo Woman sues Chipotle

A San Luis Obispo woman says a local restaurant manager used to tell her, basically, because she was black, she was lucky to have a job.

Janeka Samuels talked to LiLi Tan about how she says she endured years of discrimination.

Janeka Samuels says she was let go from the Chipotle on Madonna Road as soon as she stood up for herself. She says it's where she endured racist remarks for years.

"Have you seen the show Roots?" Samuels said her manager asked her. "I said yeah. And he said, 'If you ask again, I'm going to hang you like they hung him in Roots.'"

Samuels says she was working her way up within the Chipotle company, and working in San Luis Obispo, known as the Happiest City in America. It wasn't so happy for Samuels, who says she endured racist remarks from Ben Debilzan, who manages Chipotle's up and down the central coast.

"He was like, I was lucky to have a job in San Luis Obispo because I'm black, and if I got fired from Chipotle, who's going to hire me?" says Samuels.

She says Debilzan even made her wear a name tag which read "black beans rule." When she protested, she says he would just laugh and say "Hah, no one would ever believe you."

Some of Samuels' former coworkers have given sworn statements supporting her claims. She says she would often cry, and had to go on medical leave after continuously vomiting. She says she notified Human Resources reps and sent e-mails to corporate, but nothing was done.

She also says a week after she got an attorney, Debilzan handed her her last paycheck. Samuels is now suing Debilzan and Chipotle for racial discrimination.

In a statement to KSBY News, the attorney representing Chipotle and Debilzan says Samuels was "terminated after several of her crew members complained about how she was treating them." and "only thereafter did she file her lawsuit, raising allegations of racism."

Samuels says her reviews were stellar. "I have crew members who have said I was the only reason they came to Chipotle every day. I smile now because I'm holding back the tears because I've cried so much. I don't even have any more tears to give him.

Samuels says she decided to go public with her story because she's been advised if there is a settlement, she may have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. She wanted to tell her story before it gets that far, in hopes to give other people the courage to stand up.

She is moving back to Los Angeles to be with her family and make a fresh start. If the case does go to trial, her attorney says it would be sometime in the spring of 2015. A jury would decide how much she's awarded.



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