Video surveillance has done many wonderful things for the security and law enforcement industries. More than a few movies and TV shows include a dramatic reveal in which they show the suspect the video footage that caught them in the act. But Jeanette Ortiz claims never got that dramatic reveal.
Ortiz worked as a manager for Chipotle in their Fresno, California location up until 2015 when she was fired for allegedly stealing $626 in cash from the restaurant’s safe. Ortiz was told that surveillance cameras had caught her in the act, but she was never shown the video footage. Instead, she was told the evidence had been destroyed, but Ortiz wasn’t willing to leave it at that. She sued Chipotle for wrongful termination.
Wrongful termination is a very difficult case to win since most states (including California) are at-will employment states, meaning employers don’t need a reason to fire their workers, as long as they don’t have a written agreement with their employees that explicitly states they can only be fired for specific reasons. And in fact, Chipotle may have been able to get away with it if they had simply fired Ortiz without an explanation, but the elaborate alleged plot designed to defame her made her suspicious.
Not only is the alleged plot itself suspicious (since Ortiz maintains she never stole anything from her employer), but the timing is also enough to set off alarm bells, both to Ortiz and the jury that heard her case. Prior to the accusation of theft, Ortiz had put in a claim for worker’s compensation for a wrist injury she had suffered as a result of carpal tunnel, which she claimed was a result of fulfilling her duties at Chipotle.
Many people tend to think of worker’s compensation as applying only to industries with a certain amount of danger involved, such as construction sites. But carpal tunnel syndrome, and other injuries that result from performing the repetitive motions over and over again, also constitute work-related injuries, for which workers are entitled to compensation from their employers. Some employers have replaced standard keyboards and computer mice with more ergonomic options to prevent strain on their employees’ muscles and tendons. Others have apparently opted for blackmailing their employees.
In her wrongful termination lawsuit, Ortiz alleged her bosses had been scheming to defame her so they could fire her, rather than compensate her for her injuries. The jury agreed with Ortiz, and after only four hours of deliberation, awarded her $1.97 million for lost wages and $6 million for emotional suffering and distress.
For a total of almost $8 million, it certainly would have been much cheaper for Chipotle to simply pay Ortiz’s claim for worker’s compensation, but this is hardly the first time an employer’s attempt to avoid paying employment-related expenses has backfired.
As encouraging as the jury’s verdict sounds, this is not necessarily the end of the case. Chipotle has the option to file an appeal and there’s never any guarantee the appellate court will be as friendly to Ortiz as the trial court.
The Chicago employment law, wrongful termination and class action lawyers at the Chicago Overtime and Employment Rights Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims by waiters and busboys and other restaurant and hotel workers against national restaurant chains including Hilton, DoubleTree, W, Marriott, Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Extended Stay America, Staybridge Suites, Best Western, HomeTown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Applebees, Chipotle, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, Outback Steak House, Taco Bell, Burger King, Chili’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s and hotels for mis-classifying employees as managers or assistant managers, forcing employees to work off the clock at business, failing to share all tips, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim of these wage theft practices call us at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.
The Chicago class action attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have three decades of experience fighting to help employees who are victims of wage, overtime and tip theft by their employers. We have a team of Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers who concentrate on prosecuting state and nationwide class action lawsuits. Our attorneys work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and pursue claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Plainfield and Elk Grove Village. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Cook Counties.
Our Woodstock and Waukegan overtime, wrongful termination and employment lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during employment discrimination and wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime and civil rights cases well. Many employers misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.
The Chicago Overtime and Employment Law Center is based in Chicago and represents clients throughout the country who have unpaid overtime, civil rights, wrongful termination and other employment right claims.