The former manager of a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant recently achieved a significant victory in a wrongful termination lawsuit. On May 10, 2018, a California jury awarded Ms. Jeanette Ortiz $7.97 million to compensate her for the loss of her job in 2015. The verdict included $6 million for emotional distress and $1.97 million for lost wages.
Business Insider reported that Ms. Ortiz was earning $70,000 per year as the general manager of a Fresno, CA, Chipotle restaurant and was negotiating for a salary increase to $100,000 annually. But, in 2015, Ms. Ortiz was accused of stealing $626 from a safe at the restaurant and subsequently dismissed from her position. Although Chipotle initially claimed the theft was documented by the store’s security camera, the management later said the evidence had been destroyed.
The Plaintiff Prevails
After deliberating for four hours, the civil jury apparently agreed with Ms. Ortiz’s contention that Chipotle’s theft charges were bogus, a form of discrimination based upon her medical condition. Ms. Ortiz had previously filed a workers’ compensation claim for carpal tunnel syndrome, a work-related wrist injury. She had also taken a medical leave of absence from her position due to this injury.
According to the Washington Post, Ms. Ortiz’s attorney, Warren Paboojian, said his client had trouble finding work after she was terminated. Since Ms. Ortiz had spent 14 years working for Chipotle, the company was featured prominently in her resume. When potential employers asked the reason she left her last position, she was forced to admit she had been fired for stealing.
Mr. Paboojian disclosed that Ms. Ortiz would be receiving compensation over and above the jury’s almost $8 million award. To avoid punitive damages that could have multiplied the award significantly, Chipotle’s attorneys apparently offered an additional, confidential settlement.
About Compensation for Wrongful Termination
This case is one of many wrongful termination lawsuits that have yielded multimillion-dollar verdicts. It is important to note that the majority of these types of cases end in a negotiated settlement rather than a jury trial. Wrongful termination cases tend to be difficult to prove, and juries are notoriously unpredictable.
For a solid, evidence-based case, a wrongful termination claimant can expect to receive appropriate compensation. The value of the claim is based on several factors, which include:
Lost Wages and Benefits – The settlement or court award will take into account the dollar amount the employee has lost because of the dismissal. Although fired employees are expected to seek new employment, this award is designed to make up for compensation that has been lost as well as any future wages and benefits the worker will no longer receive.
Emotional Distress – If the circumstances leading up to the dismissal involved extreme, unlawful conduct on the part of the business, there is often compensation for the employee’s mental anguish. This is most likely when the case involves illegal discrimination or retaliation. The employee may also suffer because of the stigma of being fired and the knowledge that the termination was grossly unjust.
Do You Have a Wrongful Termination Claim?
If you believe you have been illegally fired, it may be worth the time to call an experienced labor and employment lawyer. Feldman Legal Group offers free case assessments for wrongful termination and other employment law issues.