US & Canada

Ottawa grandmother wins $100k lawsuit after McDonald's firing

Esther Brake Image copyright Courtesy Esther Brake
Image caption Esther Brake says she feels fantastic about her win

An Ontario woman has won over C$100,000 (US$74,390/£57,460) in damages after being wrongfully dismissed from her job at McDonald's.

Esther Brake, 67, had been working at various McDonald's franchises since 1986.

In 2012, she was given a choice to either be demoted or fired after being sent to manage one struggling Ottawa-area franchise.

Ms Brake refused the demotion and was fired without notice or payment.

She then sued for wrongful dismissal. She won the initial round and in 2016 was awarded $105,000, plus costs. The franchise owners appealed.

This week, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the original decision.

Ms Brake, a grandmother of three, said she has always been the type who fights when she believes she is in the right.

"I think they thought I would give up months and years ago but I'm not that kind of person," she said.

Ms Brake first took a job at an Ottawa McDonald's after moving to the province in 1999. She was promoted to manager in 2004.

During her time in Ottawa, she received a series almost uniformly glowing performance reviews for her work - until November 2011.

She was then assigned to exclusively manage a McDonald's in an Ottawa suburb, a struggling location that had difficulty keeping staff. She was told that to succeed she would have to "turn that place around".

Ms Brake says she began to put in 12-hour days, seven days a week, without claiming overtime.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption McDonald's famous golden arches catches sunlight

In April, she received another poor review and was placed on probation. She was told by her employers she had 90 days to improve under McDonald's progressive discipline program.

The appellate court ruling noted the original trial judge found that program "was not implemented in accordance with its terms, either in letter or spirit. He found that the thresholds that Ms Brake was ordered to meet were arbitrary and unfair".

Though Ms Brake did meet most of the goals set for her by her employers, only narrowly missing one "by a margin", she was given the ultimatum of being demoted or fired.

The trial judge noted that while Ms Brake had "run into some difficulty" with her work by late 2011, she had a lengthy history of being a valuable employee and showed at the time of the ultimatum to be "trending upward at an extraordinary degree".

Ms Brake is currently working as a cashier at a home improvement store and has no plans to stop working.

"Maybe later on I'll take some time off, for a couple of days or a week," she said.

Her lawyer Miriam Vale Peters, said she was surprised this case even went to court, given the vast majority of similar cases are settled out of court.

"They wanted to make an example out of Esther Brake," she said. "She made an example out of them."

The lawyer representing Ms Brake's employers did not return a request for comment.

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