Worker wins more than $100,000 from McDonald’s over unfair firing

Esther Brake, a longtime McDonalds manager in Ottawa

Esther Brake, a longtime McDonalds manager in Ottawa, won a $100k judgement in her wrongful dismissal case against the fast food giant.  Julie Oliver / Postmedia 

ESTHER BRAKE IS LOVIN’ IT. McDonald’s not so much.

The fast food giant will have to pay Esther $100,000 by an order of the Supreme Court of Ontario made on May 23, 2017. 

“I’m on top of the world,” said Esther. “It means everything to me. I’m very, very happy that the courts took the time to listen to an individual who took a company like McDonald’s on, and we won.”

The court agreed with Esther that McDonald’s had no legitimate reason to first demote her and then fire her. In fact the court ruled the 67-year-old grandmother had been “set up to fail” after more than 25 years working at McDonald’s restaurants in Ottawa and Newfoundland.

McDonald’s played hardball all the way. The court noted that the final judgments in the case could have been avoided if the McDonald’s offers to settle weren’t so “woefully inadequate.”

The court also ruled the company that manages the restaurant will have to pay Esther’s $120,000 legal costs.

A five year fight for fairness 

Esther’s fight for fairness began in 2012 when Mcdonald’s told her she’d have to take a demotion or be fired. The demotion didn’t involve a reduced salary, but would require Esther to report to a much younger manager she herself had trained, along with a significant loss in benefits.

The management ultimatum came after Esther received her first negative performance review in November 2011 after a decade of positive assessments. 

The judge found Esther was then put on a disciplinary program and subjected to performance standards that were arbitrary and unfair. 

Esther testified she worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week for five months. Esther achieved what the court described as “outstanding” scores compared with Mc-Donald’s own corporate standards in customer service and quality and cleanliness, but just narrowly missed a third goal. Esther was told she had failed the program and would have to take the demotion or leave.

After leaving McDonald’s, she tried to find other management jobs, but got no offers. Attempts to set up a babysitting service and work as a cleaner also failed. Eventually she took a job with Tim Hortons, and later Home Depot as a cashier.

No rest for the weary 

Esther said she is looking forward to McDonald’s paying up. But getting the money won’t put her on easy street. She had to dip into her retirement savings to survive after being pushed out by McDonald’s. She’s just going to have to keep on working. 

“I haven’t got anything from them yet,” said Esther. “Yes, it’s a lot of money but at the end of the day I have to watch every cent to keep on living.”

Esther said people have come up to her in the Home Depot store where she works now and told her they were proud of her for taking McDonald’s to court. Esther said she feels vindicated by the decisions from the two courts.

“The first thing I would tell anybody is, if they feel they are being treated unfairly — it’s a tough battle, I’m not saying it’s an easy battle — I tell them, ‘Go for it. Don’t hold back. Go for it.’ If you tell the truth, you could win.”

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