By:Stephanie IP\Vancouver Sun
Usha Ram worked at various Burger King locations in Vancouver Canada as a cook for more than for 24 years . With no record of any formal discipline.
At the end of her shift on Dec. 27, 2013, Ram asked Yayyaba Salman, the manager on duty, in Hindi if she could take home what was later translated in court as “fish fry” without paying, as she did not have her wallet that day.
Her manager who also spoke Hindi, agreed and Ram packed a fish sandwich, an order of fries, and a pop. The manager later testified that she thought Ram was asking only to take home “fish” as in a fish sandwich, and not an order of fries as well.
The following week, Salman waited to see if Ram would pay for the extra food she had taken, which came to a total cost of $1 once staff discounts were accounted for. When Ram did not, the manager notified Janif Mohammed the co-owner of the Burger King, and Ram was pulled into a meeting and accused of stealing.
According to court documents, Burger King employees are entitled to free drinks during their shifts and half-priced food outside of shifts, unless otherwise approved by a manager. The judge noted there was some ambiguity as various testimonies shared different understandings the staff policies.
When Ram began crying and offered to pay for the food in hopes of keeping her job, she was told to leave. Ram left the premises in tears and uncertain whether she was still employed. Ram claims she suffered mental distress as a result of the incident. Ram was a full time employee earning 21,000 a year
Ram is a 55-year-old wife and mother who immigrated to Canada from Fiji in 1987. She has a Grade 8 education and a basic level of English. Throughout the trial, Ram testified in Hindi using an interpreter.
Ram is the sole breadwinner, supporting both her physically handicapped husband and a mentally disabled adult daughter.
Janif Mohammed, co-owner of the Granville Street fast food joint, represented himself in court and countered that he had a zero-tolerance policy for theft and said Ram took a sandwich, fries and soft drink, though Yayyaba Salman, the manager on duty at the time, testified she thought Ram had asked only to take a sandwich.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lisa Warren concluded Ram was not given an appropriate chance to respond to the allegations and clarify that it was the result of a miscommunication.
Warren also ruled Mohammed and franchise co-owner Michael Lacombe “behaved in an unreasonable, unfair and unduly insensitive manner” the day Ram was confronted with the allegations, noting Mohammed failed to take into account the difficulty Ram would face trying to find a job elsewhere, considering her age, poor English skills, and lack of education.
Warren ordered the franchisee to pay Ram general damages of $21,000, which reflects a year’s worth of salary, and $25,000 in aggravated damages for Ram’s emotional turmoil following the dismissal.