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Malicious termination finding leads to $7.97 million verdict

Malicious firing of employees is never something that should occur. Even though California is an at-will employment state, there are still limitations to terminations. For example, employers can't fire employees for making factual claims about the company or for filing workers' compensation claims.

Sometimes, employers will try to hide the malicious termination of an employee by making claims that can't be substantiated. Recently, a Fresno jury heard the case of a former general manager of a Chipotle Mexican Grill who claimed her termination was malicious. The company asserted that the woman stole $626 and violated their trust.

The woman's attorney noted that while she did live paycheck-to-paycheck and had nine children, that it doesn't make her a thief. One of her witnesses, another manager who frequently helped with the store's money tallies, said that he saw the cash in an envelope on Dec. 30, 2014. Chipotle alleged that they had video of the woman stealing the money on Dec. 29, 2014.

When the woman was terminated in Jan. 2015, she asked to see the video. Chipotle declined. The company claims it is against their policy to show videos; however, they have also claimed that the video was missing. The terminated manager's complaint accused the company of destroying the video evidence.

The woman noted that she was injured at work and filed a workers' compensation claim in December 2014 but continued to work until she had to take a medical leave due to carpal tunnel syndrome. Once she was seeking medical care, she claims she was asked to falsely minimize the severity of her injury so she could come back to work. She asserts that because she didn't do this, Chipotle maliciously terminated her.

Jury deliberations lasted around four hours. So far, the woman is entitled to $1.97 million for lost wages in the past and future. She is also entitled to $6 million for emotional distress. The court also has to determine what punitive damages are appropriate since the jury did find that the termination was malicious.

Source: Fresno Bee, "Fresno jury says Chipotle owes former manager $7.97 million for wrongful termination," Pablo Lopez, May 11, 2018

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