Fresno, California: A Fresno, California Superior Court jury last week ordered Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. to pay $8 million to Jeannette Ortiz for wrongfully firing her in January 2015 from the restaurant she managed on Shaw Avenue across from California State University campus (Fresno State).
Jeanette Ortiz, a former manager, was accused in 2015 of stealing $626 in cash from a safe at the restaurant in Fresno.
Her bosses claimed the theft was recorded on surveillance video, but when Ortiz asked to see the evidence she was told it had been destroyed.
Ortiz fired a wrongful termination suit. Last week jurors ordered Chipotle to pay her $7.97 million in damages. In the end, jurors awarded Ortiz $6 million for emotional distress and $1.97 million for loss of past and future wages totalling $7.97 million for wrongful termination..
The panel ruled Ortiz was a victim of a scheme to defame her for filing a worker’s compensation claim for a job-related injury to her wrist.
The jury deliberated about four hours before reaching its verdict in Judge Jeffrey Hamilton’s courtroom.
But the trial isn’t over. Both sides return to Hamilton’s court on Monday to determine how much Chipotle must pay in punitive damages to Ortiz. Courts assess punitive damages to deter reprehensible acts, like what the jury determined Chipotle did to Ortiz, from happening again.
Ortiz is entitled the punitive damages because the jury found that Chipotle upper management had maliciously fired her.
The case went to trial because Chipotle offered to give Ortiz, 42, only $1,000 to settle her civil complaint. During the trial, Paboojian asked the jury to award Ortiz least $10 million.
Fresno attorneys Warren Paboojian and Jason Bell, represented Ortiz in the wrongful termination case she brought against the fast-food giant.
The theft claim was ridiculous, Paboojian said, because company officials had repeatedly given Ortiz outstanding performance reviews during her 14 years with the company. She was making $70,000 a year as a general manager and company officials had talked about promoting her to a position that would have paid her at least $100,000, he said.
That all changed, Paboojian said, when Ortiz filed a worker’s compensation claim in December 2014. Because of her dedication, she continued to work with her injured wrist until Jan. 18, 2015, when she went on medical leave. While on leave, upper management fired her without showing her the video evidence, Paboojian said. He called the move “evil,” “indecent,” and un-American.
Paboojian said the credibility of Chipotle’s witnesses was suspect because they said Ortiz took an envelope of cash out of the safe, took out the money, fanned the bills, and looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was watching. That’s absurd, Paboojian told the jury, because why would Ortiz look over her shoulder when she knew the video camera was above the safe.
In addition to taping over the video evidence, Paboojian told the jury that Chipotle management deleted text messages and lost notes about the reasons for firing Ortiz.