Fired Tim Hortons employee loses ‘toonie’ case

By June 1, 2008Media

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of the former owner of a Tim Hortons franchise in Toronto who fired an employee several years ago for allegedly stealing in what became known as the “toonie” case.

BY TIMES COLONIST (VICTORIA) JUNE 1, 2008

TORONTO —The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of the former owner of a Tim Hortons franchise in Toronto who fired an employee several years ago for allegedly stealing in what became known as the “toonie” case.

The appeal court dismissed a request by Charlene Walsh for a new trial in her $10-million lawsuit against Tim Hortons and the Toronto police, alleging wrongful dismissal and malicious prosecution.

A civil jury ruled against Walsh in 2006 after a 23-day trial and found that the owner, Brigitte Regenscheit, was justified in firing her employee.

“We see no basis upon which we can revisit the jury’s findings,” said the three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal, in a unanimous decision released late Friday.

“None of these findings can be properly characterized as unreasonable,” the court said.

The lengthy legal dispute has been very frustrating and she has been unfairly portrayed as a “heartless person,” said Regenscheit.

“My name has been dragged through the mud for nine years. Nobody did any of the things we were accused of doing. We did not get special treatment from the police,” she said.

“The court’s decision puts to rest, at long last, the false allegations my client has faced over the last nine years,” said lawyer David Shiller, who represented Regenscheit in the civil lawsuit.

Walsh was fired in 1999 after a security video allegedly showed her taking a toonie and an undetermined amount of change from the cash register. The employee was charged with theft and fired after she was interviewed by Toronto police.

Ernest Guiste, the lawyer representing Walsh, argued that police improperly charged his client because they received free coffee from Tim Hortons. Walsh was later acquitted of the criminal charge.

At the appeal court hearing last month, Guiste suggested his client was shown taking tip money and putting it into a tip jar. He argued that this was not properly explained to the jury during the civil trial by Superior Court Justice Dennis Lane.

The Court of Appeal found the Superior Court judge made only minor errors that did not have any impact on the fairness of the trial.

“The positions of the parties involving the issue of theft were simple and straightforward. The jury could not have failed to appreciate those respective positions,” said the Court of Appeal.

As well, the original allegation of theft could not be described as “limited to a single occurrence involving a single toonie,” the court concluded.

On the eve of the civil trial in 2006, the defendants offered Walsh $30,000 and some of her legal costs. She refused the offer.

Ordinarily, the losing side in a civil trial must pay some of the legal costs of the winning side. the Superior Court judge declined to award any costs since Walsh is a single mother on social assistance.

That decision was described as an “appropriate but generous exercise of his discretion,” by the Court of Appeal. It stated that Regenscheit and the police are entitled to make submissions to recover some of their costs of defending the appeal.