Burger King cook fired for taking 50 cents’ worth of food wins lawsuits. Usha Ram was awarded $46,000 after being fired from a Vancouver, British Columbia Burger King for taking food at the end of her shift. But Ram claimed it was one big misunderstanding.
Usha Ram took the owners of the downtown Vancouver fast food franchise to court after she was fired at the end of 2013 from her position as a cook. Ram argued she had been given permission by the manager on duty to pack up the food and take it home without paying.
Janif Mohammed, co-owner of the Granville Street fast food joint, represented himself in court and countered that he had a zero-tolerance policy for theft and said Ram took a sandwich, fries and soft drink, though Yayyaba Salman, the manager on duty at the time, testified she thought Ram had asked only to take a sandwich.
Ram is a 55-year-old wife and mother who immigrated to Canada from Fiji in 1987. She has a Grade 8 education and a basic level of English. Throughout the trial, Ram testified in Hindi using an interpreter.
Ram is the sole breadwinner, supporting both her physically handicapped husband and a mentally disabled adult daughter.
In 1989, the plaintiff began working under Mohammed at a Burger King restaurant on East Hastings Street. At the time, Mohammed was an area manager responsible for several Burger King franchises.
Over the years, Ram continued to work for Mohammed while being transferred to various Burger King locations, including Main Street, King George Highway, Kings Cross, and finally the Granville Street location, where she had worked since 2008. When she was fired, Ram had been working full-time hours at minimum wage, earning an annual salary of $21,000.
Mohammed testified Ram “was a good and valued employee, with no record of any formal discipline” with the chain before the December 2013 firing, said the judgment.
At the end of her shift on Dec. 27, 2013, Ram asked Salman, the manager on duty, in Hindi if she could take home what was later translated in court as “fish fry” without paying, as she did not have her wallet that day.
Salman, who also spoke Hindi, agreed and Ram packed a fish sandwich, an order of fries, and a pop. The manager later testified that she thought Ram was asking only to take home “fish” as in a fish sandwich, and not an order of fries as well.
According to court documents, Burger King employees are entitled to free drinks during their shifts and half-priced food outside of shifts, unless otherwise approved by a manager. The judge noted there was some ambiguity as various testimonies shared different understandings the staff policies.
The following week, Salman waited to see if Ram would pay for the extra food she had taken, which came to a total cost of $1 once staff discounts were accounted for. When Ram did not, the manager notified Mohammed, and Ram was pulled into a meeting and accused of stealing.
When Ram began crying and offered to pay for the food in hopes of keeping her job, she was told to leave. Ram left the premises in tears and uncertain whether she was still employed. Ram claims she suffered mental distress as a result of the incident.
“Mr. Mohammed did not consider the particular circumstances or make any assessment of the actual seriousness of Ms. Ram’s conduct before deciding to terminate her employment,” the judgment read. “He claimed that he did not do so because it is necessary to ensure that employees know that taking food without authorization will not be tolerated.”
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lisa Warren concluded Ram was not given an appropriate chance to respond to the allegations and clarify that it was the result of a miscommunication. Warren also ruled Mohammed and franchise co-owner Michael Lacombe “behaved in an unreasonable, unfair and unduly insensitive manner” the day Ram was confronted with the allegations, noting Mohammed failed to take into account the difficulty Ram would face trying to find a job elsewhere, considering her age, poor English skills, and lack of education.
Warren ordered the franchisee to pay Ram general damages of $21,000, which reflects a year’s worth of salary, and $25,000 in aggravated damages for Ram’s emotional turmoil following the dismissal.