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Fired for taking 50 cents worth of food, Burger King cook wins $46K in damages

Usha Ram had worked for the same franchise owner for 24 years, but was fired after she took home a fish sandwich, fries and a pop

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A former Burger King cook has been awarded $46,000 in damages following her January 2014 dismissal for taking $0.50 worth of food at the end of her shift.

A B.C. Supreme Court justice awarded Usha Ram $21,000 in lieu of notice (one year’s worth of salary) and an additional $25,000 in aggravated damages. Ram had asked for $230,000 in damages.

The case hinged on whether or not Ram was authorized to take a free fish sandwich, or a fish sandwich along with an order of fries and a pop, when she finished her shift at the Burger King location on Granville Street where she had worked for five years. Ram had worked at other Vancouver-area Burger Kings for a total of 24 years. At the time of her termination she was earning B.C.’s minimum wage of the time, $10.25 an hour.

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Ram is originally from Fiji and her first language is a form of Hindi. According to court documents, at the end of her shift on Dec. 27, 2013, she asked her manager in Hindi if she could take home “a fish fry” (there is no word for sandwich in Hindi) and the manager gave her permission to do so. She packed up the sandwich, fries and pop in full view of the manager and left.

The following day, the manager waited to see whether Ram would pay for the fries and pop. When she didn’t, she was called into the area manager’s office and told she would be suspended for taking the food without paying.

As she walked out of the restaurant, the owner of the franchise asked her, in the presence of other employees, whether she had lost her job. A few days later, she was fired over the phone.

The way Ram was dismissed caused her embarrassment and mental distress “over and above the normal distress and hurt feelings resulting from the termination of her employment,” wrote Justice Lisa Warren in her Feb. 9, 2017 ruling.

“In particular, the theft allegation caused her shame, embarrassment, anxiety and distress about her ability to find another job and that this worsened her depressive symptoms and resulted in sleepless nights.”

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