NEW YORK, August 22 (Reuters) - A vegetarian lawyer has sued Chipotle Mexican Grill for selling a bean dish that contains pork.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses the national fast food chain of duping the public into believing its pinto beans are vegetarian.
The plaintiff Kevin Shenkman "reasonably assumed Defendant's 'Pinto Beans' were not prepared with and did not contain bacon and/or pork since there were no representations made to the contrary," the complaint said. In-store menus made no mention of meat in the beans. And when Shenkman asked, Chipotle servers told him that the beans did not contain bacon or pork, the suit said.
"Throughout our 18-year history, our pinto beans have always been made with bacon, and we have not described them as being vegetarian," said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold. He said a better option for vegetarian customers was the black beans, which are labeled as vegetarian on the restaurant's menus and website. To avoid any confusion, the company plans to roll out new menu boards that highlight the use of bacon in the pinto beans, Arnold said.
Shenkman, who is Jewish and a vegetarian, sued on behalf of a class of California customers who, like him, cannot eat pork because of "ethical, religious, moral, cultural, philosophical or health-related" concerns, according to the complaint.
Shenkman's lawyer Edwin Aiwazian said the suit will come down to whether a reasonable consumer would expect the pinto beans to contain pork. He described his client, a business litigator and Columbia Law School graduate, as intelligent and principled. If Shenkman was deceived, "it's happening to a lot of people," he said.
Aiwazian currently represents Shenkman in two other food-related class action lawsuits. He recently filed a false advertising lawsuit against coconut water makers Vita Coco and One World Enterprises, accusing the companies of overstating their nutrient levels on their labels. Shenkman is also the named plaintiff in a proposed class action suit against Panda Express that accuses the chain of adding chicken powder to its vegetarian dishes.
News of meat in Chipotle's pinto beans came to light when Maxim senior editor Seth Porges tweeted on July 29: "After more than a decade of ordering Chipotle pinto beans, I was told they have bacon. As a non-pork eater, I feel ill. cc: @ChipotleMedia." He went on to praise Chipotle's "nimble response" on Twitter, adding that a company executive had called him to discuss fixes to the chain's menus.
Aiwazian said he had not seen any added pork disclosures in the restaurant's menus to date. The lawsuit alleges fraud and false advertising and requests unspecified damages, a corrective advertising campaign and an apology to class members.
In 2001, a class of Hindus and vegetarians sued McDonald's Corp for including beef seasoning in its French fries. McDonald's, which previously owned an interest in Chipotle, agreed to donate $10 million to vegetarian and religious groups to settle the case. Each of the 12 named plaintiffs received $4,000.
In July, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that a group of Hindu customers could sue a New Jersey Indian restaurant for serving meat samosas that were billed as vegetarian.
The Chipotle suit is Shenkman v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc, Los Angeles Superior Court, No. BC467980.
For Shenkman: Edwin Aiwazian of The Aiwazian Law Firm.
For Chipotle: Not immediately available.
(Reporting by Terry Baynes)
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