Chipotle wrongfully accuses worker of theft and fires her. Then Chipotle pays dearly.

I saw this online story by Rachel Seigel of the Washington Post a couple weeks ago.

Jeanette Ortiz worked at a California Chipotle for 14 years. She had moved up to a General Manager position and was making around $72,000 a year. Chipotle’s practice going back several years, was to have armored cars swing by and swap out large bills for smaller bills. One day, in the fall of 2014, the armored car never showed. And there was an extra $636 dollars laying around as a result. Ortiz found the money, placed it in a manila envelope, sealed it and stapled it. She then contacted corporate to let them know about the extra money. She then put the money into a safe, in view of a surveillance camera.

In December, 2014, Ortiz filed a Workers’ Compensation claim, alleging she suffered from carpal tunnel. She had filed prior Workers’ Comp claims and her bosses weren’t happy to hear about another one.

On January 3, 2015, Ortiz texted her boss as well as two other supervisors and alerted them the money she had put in the safe back in October was gone. Ortiz reported she and an assistant manager had last seen the money on December 30, 2014. Chipotle then decided to bring in another manager to review the surveillance tape. That manager said the footage showed Ortiz taking the money from the safe and putting it in her backpack. Ortiz adamantly denied doing so and demanded to see the footage. Chipotle corporate types responded that corporate policy did not permit them to show her the footage. Ortiz was then fired.

Ortiz sued the Chipotle for wrongful termination, lost wages, damage to her reputation and emotional distress. At trial evidence was adduced that there is no actual written policy forbidding employees from reviewing surveillance video. To make matters worse, no video of Ortiz taking the money was ever produced. Chipotle said that they had “filmed over” the footage. Oops. Chipotle lawyers argued that while Chipotle had no ill will toward Ortiz, Chipotle felt betrayed after Ortiz allegedly stole the money – especially after supporting Ortiz through multiple pregnancies and work injuries. So Chipotle was betting that despite the missing videotape, they could convince a jury that Ortiz stole the money. Chipotle was very, very wrong.

The jury awarded Ortiz $6 million dollars in emotional distress and $1.97 million for loss of past and future wages.

Shortly after the verdict, the parties reached a confidential settlement in order to avoid a further award of punitive damages.