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May 20, 2008

Saga of Tim Hortons toonie theft goes on

Cashier fired in 1999 for taking toonie she claimed was a tip wanted $23.75 million in damages on appeal
    
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A former Tim Hortons employee is continuing her fight for wrongful dismissal damages nine years after being fired for stealing $2.

Charlene Walsh was caught on security video taking a toonie out of the till on May 31, 1999, and putting it in the tip jar at the Toronto store where she worked. Walsh, who was pregnant at the time, claimed it was normal practice to keep her tips in the till if it was short on change and take it out later. The store owner, however, saw it as stealing and fired her. She was also charged by police with theft under $5,000.

The charges were dropped and Walsh filed a suit against the franchise owner for wrongful dismissal and the police, who she claimed filed the charges because they received free food and drinks from the store for years. She refused an out-of-court settlement and the case was dismissed in 2006.

However, Walsh continued her battle, appealing the decision and claiming damages of $23.75 million because Tim Hortons fabricated the theft accusation so it could fire her before she could go on maternity leave. The amount was later lowered to $10 million.

The Ontario Court of Appeal was to have heard the case May 14, but Walsh’s lawyer, Ernest Guiste, asked for a delay because he felt one of the judges was biased. The court rejected the claim, but the judge stepped down so the case could continue quickly.

Guiste then claimed the judges’ decision caused him stress and he couldn’t continue. The court agreed to adjourn for a couple of days.

Despite the length of time and resources spent on the case, Tim Hortons is sticking to its decision to fire Walsh nine years ago. It said it had “express or implied terms of the contract” that employees caught stealing would be fired, regardless of the amount.

“A theft is a theft, and I think an employer who’s in a business such as a Tim Hortons franchise has every right to terminate an employee who is found to be stealing,” the store owner’s lawyer, David Shiller, told reporters.
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