Burger King cook gets $46K for being sacked over fish sandwich
- 16 February 2017
- From the section US & Canada
A Canadian court has awarded a former Burger King cook $46,000 ($35,000 USD, £28,000) in damages after she was fired for taking home a fish sandwich, fries and beverage.
Usha Ram says her manager gave her permission to take home the food.
The 55-year-old immigrant from Fiji had worked at various Burger King locations around Vancouver for 24 years.
Her boss, Janif Mohammed, fired her to warn other staff against theft.
In her ruling, Justice Lisa Warren found that the employers acted in an "unreasonable, unfair and unduly insensitive manner" and should have considered that Ms Ram would have difficulty finding other employment because of her age, limited education and English skills.
Mr Mohammed, who defended himself, says Ms Ram was an exemplary employee, a "wonderful lady" and a "good worker". The two had worked together since 1989.
At the time of her dismissal, in January 2014, she was earning $21,000 a year and working full-time. Her husband is physically disabled and she also supports an adult daughter with a mental disability. She is the sole earner in her household.
The judge ordered the franchise co-owners, Mr Mohammed and Michael Lacombe, to pay her $21,000 in general damages, or the equivalent of one-year severance. The judge also awarded her $25,000 in aggravated damages for emotional distress.
The incident occurred on Boxing Day in 2013, when Ms Ram asked the store's manager Tayyaba Salman if she could take home some food at the end of her shift because she had forgotten her wallet.
"Can I have a fish?" she asked in Hindi, her native language.
According to court documents, store policy permits employees to have free beverages during their shift, and a 50% discount on food, but managers were allowed to make exceptions.
In the end, the judge ruled, the dispute boils down to a misunderstanding over what Ms Ram meant when she asked for "a fish". Ms Ram testified she meant a combo meal, Ms Salman interpreted it to mean a sandwich. There is no word for "sandwich" in Hindi, Ms Salman told the court.
When Ms Ram walked out with a fish sandwich, medium fries and orange soda without paying, Ms Salman reported her to Mr Mohammed. After applying the employee discount, the value of the fries and drink taken by Ms Ram was about 50¢.
On 30 December, Ms Ram was called into the office with Ms Salman and Mr Mohammed, who accused her of stealing. Ms Ram began to cry, and offered to pay him for the food she took, but Mr Mohammed told her to go home. Later, he told the judge her offer to pay was an admission of theft.
She was fired shortly after, without severance.
"Had he simply turned his mind to the specific words that Ms Salman said Ms Ram used when she asked to take the food, or the fact that Ms Ram made no attempt to conceal what she was doing, he would likely have appreciated the significant possibility of a misunderstanding between Ms Ram and Ms Salman," Justice Warren ruled.