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$7.9 M lawsuit award worth employers' attention

There's a common saying that, in business, if you're not growing, you're dying. Some dispute the truth of the saying. Other's stand as hard and fast believers. Wherever you happen to fall, there is one thing that most everyone likely can agree upon - that success doesn't happen without dedicated employees.

We think most would also agree that dedication is not a one-way street. Employers have a stake in pursuing practices that encourage employees to deliver their best. If employers wonder what practices to follow, a good place to start is to understand human resource regulation compliance. The law, as complicated as it can be, serves as a good benchmark.

Cautionary tale

What prompts these observations is a story making headlines. It didn't happen in Pennsylvania, but considering that the company involved has outlets all over the country, including in and around Pittsburgh, it is worth taking notice.

At issue was a claim of wrongful termination by a former manager of a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant. According to reports on her case, she was noted for being loyal and hardworking when in 2015, she was fired for allegedly stealing $626 from the store's safe. She denied the accusation, but attorneys for the company said they had video evidence as proof.

Here's where things go sideways. In the course of challenging the accusations, the former manager asked to see the video evidence, only to be told that it had been destroyed. During her wrongful termination suit, her attorney presented evidence to support his argument that his client was making $70,000 a year and was on track for promotion to a position paying $100,000, suggesting she had no motive.

Additional evidence included that the woman's firing came about a month after she had filed a workers' compensation claim for an injured wrist. Her attorney said she continued to work for weeks more and was fired after she took medical leave.

A jury returned a verdict against Chipotle and ordered the company to pay the woman more than $7.9 million in damages. And, facing the prospect of possible punitive damages of up to $71 million, Chipotle and the woman's attorney reached a confidential settlement.

The woman's attorney says the message of the case to businesses is, "That you need to treat your employees fairly and honestly."

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Kisner Law Firm, LLC
Gulf Tower
707 Grant St., Suite 2646
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
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Phone: 412-880-5605
Fax: 412-235-6704

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