Amid a national coin shortage, Chipotle is facing a class action lawsuit from several customers who claim the restaurant chain has been pocketing their change.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Pennsylvania's Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on Thursday, alleges that the burrito chain directs its employees to round up the amount of change due to customers who paid with cash and then keep the remaining balance.
According to the lawsuit, which was reviewed by TODAY Food, "Chipotle engages in a corporate policy of misappropriation of consumer funds and unfair trade practices by refusing and failing, without legal justification, to provide proper change or credit to consumers using cash to make purchases at Pennsylvania Chipotle stores."
In one instance cited in the lawsuit, a plaintiff who visited the Perry Highway Chipotle earlier this month said they handed over a $20 bill for an order that cost $8.72. Rather than receiving $11.28 in change, the customer got $11 back.
A second customer reported that they received $4 in change when they paid with a $20 bill for an order that totaled $15.51.
While 20 or 40 cents might not sound monumental, the lawsuit claims that the alleged company policy has resulted in a loss of an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars for those who have recently visited Chipotle.
Frank Salpietro, an attorney at Rothman Gordon who is representing the Chipotle customers, told TODAY several people had reached out to him both before and after filing the lawsuit. "There has been a lot of chatter and people complained about the problem. The class representatives and others confirmed that this was happening in more than just isolated locations," he wrote in an email.
Salpietro, who couldn't comment directly on his clients' experience due to attorney-client privilege, said he has not received a response from Chipotle yet. He is currently seeking more information about Chipotle's finances before disclosing what damages his clients are seeking.
"I can tell you that the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, if violated, imposes a minimum damage of $100 per violation," he said, explaining that the class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of all people who have had similar experiences at a Chipotle store.
Since the lawsuit is pending, TODAY was unable to speak with any of the plaintiffs involved.
Many restaurants have had to get creative during the national coin shortage. One Chick-fil-A in Huntsville, Alabama, started offering a $10 bill and a free chicken sandwich to customers who brought in $10 in coins.
Still, Salpietro warned that restaurants must return change owed to customers, even during a coin shortage. He encouraged anyone else who may have experienced something similar to keep their receipts if they intend to seek legal action.
When reached by TODAY, Chipotle's Chief Corporate Affairs and Food Safety Officer Laurie Schalow declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but did share the following statement about the company's current policy: "If a restaurant is low on change as a result of the nationwide coin shortage, our policy is to only accept exact change or other non-cash forms of payment. Restaurants that are impacted have signage posted on the door as well as inside, and employees have been instructed to alert guests prior to ordering. We encourage customers to contact us immediately with any concerns so we can investigate and respond quickly to make things right."
Store managers at the locations mentioned directed TODAY to Chipotle's corporate office. Multiple attempts to reach Chipotle to confirm whether those stores in the lawsuit had posted signs alerting the public about the coin shortage went unreturned.
Last October, Chipotle customers expressed concern when they noticed charges for orders they didn't place in the burrito chain's app. At the time, Schalow told TODAY that, to her knowledge, the company had not experienced a data breach.
"The privacy and security of our customer information is very important to us. Chipotle customer accounts, like customer accounts for many other retail, hotel, and restaurant companies, have had instances of credential stuffing. This occurs where user names and passwords stolen from other companies are tested to see if they work to access accounts at other companies," she said.
She continued, "Chipotle has not identified any indication that user names and passwords were taken from Chipotle’s network, and Chipotle does not retain the full payment card number after it is used for digital orders."