Chipotle Forced to Pay Wrongfully Terminated Employee $8 Million

What damages could I receive if my employer has wrongfully terminated me?

A Fresno, California jury recently awarded a former Chipotle manager with $8 million for her wrongful termination. Jeannette Ortiz was a manager of the Shaw and Cedar Chipotle location in 2015. She was fired for what Chipotle claims was theft, but the company never produced the security video that it claimed to have of her actions. In fact, when Ortiz asked to see the video evidence, Chipotle stated it had been destroyed. The jury believed that Ortiz was actually fired because she sought workers’ compensation for a job related wrist injury. Chipotle has expressed disappointment over the massive wrongful termination award and plans to appeal.

Wrongful Termination Basics

Most employment in the United States today is considered at-will. This means that the employer can terminate the employee without cause. Similarly, the employee can quit the employment without reason at any given time. However, there are exceptions to at-will employment. Some job positions operate under a contract that requires cause for firing. Additionally, all employers are prohibited from firing an employee for discriminatory reasons or in retaliation for taking certain lawful actions, like reporting an illegal activity or seeking workers’ compensation benefits.

Unlawful Discrimination

Federal law prohibits employers from firing or penalizing employees based on discriminatory reasons, including color, race, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, and pregnancy. Some states, like New York, have additionally barred the firing of employees for their sexual orientation. It is further illegal for employees to be terminated for exercising certain protected activities, like taking medical leave or blowing the whistle on an employer’s illegal activities.

Employees who are fired due to a discriminatory intent or retaliation can potentially file a wrongful termination case in civil court. Plaintiffs can seek money damages for their wrongful termination, which may include lost pay, loss of employment benefits, and emotional distress. All of these damages are considered compensatory and the purpose of the award is to return you to the state you were in before the wrongful termination.

In addition to compensatory damages, you could be awarded punitive damages. Punitive damages are limited to circumstances where the employer’s actions have been egregious. These types of damages are meant to punish the employer and prevent similar misconduct. Consult with a wrongful termination attorney for more assistance with your potential civil case.