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Nasir and Matt discuss why Popeye's Chicken fired a pregnant employee that was the victim of an armed robbery.

Full Podcast Transcript

NASIR: All right. Welcome to our podcast where we cover business in the news and add our legal twist to that news. My name’s Nasir Pasha.

MATT: And I’m Matt Staub.

NASIR: Let’s see. I have never been to a Popeye’s. This is a confession, all right? This is a confessional podcast. It’s the first thing I want to confess. I’ve never been to a Popeye’s.

MATT: Yeah, the real confession’s going to come later on in the episode when you confess to this armed robbery that took place. But, yeah, I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a Popeye’s either. I know they have them in the Midwest because I know they have them in Indianapolis because I’ve definitely seen them.

NASIR: No, I thought they had them in San Diego, no?

MATT: Well, I’m just saying, for you and I, growing up…

NASIR: Oh, growing up, no.

MATT: Yeah, but they definitely have them in California – well, at least they have commercials for them in California because I still see those even though, when I lived up in Northern California, they used to have CiCi’s Pizza commercials, but there’s no CiCi’s Pizzas anywhere close in the area so I never understood that sort of advertising.

NASIR: It was like Sonic. I mean, Sonic used to advertise in San Diego but the nearest drive used to be far away. Now, they have closer ones.

MATT: Yeah, there’s one really close to where I live now that’s pretty new. Just like in the middle of a spot that you wouldn’t see a Sonic, typically.

NASIR: I guess there are three Popeye’s in San Diego, in case you’re wondering. There’s plenty of Popeye’s around here in Houston. I think it started in Louisiana.

MATT: I would say probably after KFC and maybe Church’s Chicken – I don’t know if that’s popular or not but it’s got to be up there in terms of most locations. I don’t know. It’s not my ranking of most locations because that’s an objective thing.
All right. I’m just going to get into the story here before this gets too out of hand.

NASIR: Once again, I’m really hungry now. You made me hungry. I feel like we should just stop the podcast and eat first.

MATT: It’s too early for me here for fried chicken.
Basically, what happened was this. There was a woman that was running – or not running, she was at the counter at Popeye’s.

NASIR: She was a manager.

MATT: She was a manager, okay. And an armed robber came in – not something that you see on a day-to-day basis at fast food places. I can’t imagine there’s too much money in those drawers but I guess it’s worth it. And so, armed robber came in, stole nearly $400 if that’s a significant amount of money. But, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much at all for a robbery.

NASIR: Worth armed robbery? Probably not.

MATT: Yeah, with an armed robbery, not probably worth it. But, anyways, this person came in stole the money and left. After the fact, the Popeye’s said, “Hey, you need to reimburse us for this money,” to the woman that was managing the store and she said, “Well…”

NASIR: She said, “No.”

MATT: Oh, I should also point out that she’s pregnant, correct? That’s another thing.

NASIR: Yeah, because that definitely added to the headlines – you know, “pregnant mother fired.”

MATT: Yeah. So, they request her to pay this money. I think they requested it pretty soon after the fact, too. She was saying, “I’m still kind of recovering from this armed robbery situation so it’s a little bit too soon and I’m also not going to pay the money. It was a robbery. You know, that’s not on me.” Of course, they did the logical thing and fired her. This was in Texas. Of course, you fire a pregnant woman who was – I don’t want to say the “victim” – I guess kind of the victim of an armed robbery or at least was there and had a gun pointed at her. The video shows it. I mean, whether the gun was loaded doesn’t matter. If someone points a gun at you, it’s pretty significant. So, they fire her and, of course, it goes viral because, you know, we talk about a lot of poor employer decisions. This seems like one of the worst ones we’ve talked about.

NASIR: Yeah, and this was the franchise owner that did it. Apparently, it was some… actually, I think I read the entity, some entity that I think owns a number of franchises but, after the backlash, they offered to hire her back. As of today, I don’t think she’s actually accepted that. I think they even offered her a couple of thousand dollars in back-pay which is, of course, much more than what the robber stole.

MATT: Yeah. And so, how this is going to end is going to definitely be some sort of lawsuit and they’ll settle and she’ll get a good amount of money out of this. Of course, bad decision by Popeye’s.

NASIR: I was trying to figure out, I saw interviews of her; how she was kind of reacting to the question of whether she’s going to go back was like she was still deciding. To me, it’s like, you know, it’s a pretty quick yes or no question. The fact that she was hedging was interesting. Maybe she is trying to think about her legal options.
But here’s what’s interesting about this whole thing. I think in California and some other states – I think Illinois – this is pretty much going to be prohibited. But, in Texas and most of the states in the United States, there’s a little bit of ambiguity here because we fall back under federal law here. There’s no state-specific rule and – believe it or not – the federal law is actually silent when it comes to reimbursements for breakage or customer theft. You know, if you’re a waitress and you spill a bunch of dishes, in California, it’s settled law that that’s the normal course of doing business and you can’t deduct wages for that. But, when it comes to federal law, it’s actually a little ambiguous and silent on the issue. And so, so long as you’re not deducting wages to the extent that they’re making below minimum wage for any given work week, there is an argument from the employer’s side that’s to say that they may be able to do that which is pretty crazy if you think about it.

MATT: Yeah, it’s definitely crazy and, like you said, it’s not something that would happen in California. But, you know, the leg that Popeye’s was standing on was saying she was fired for breaking the policy of having too much money in the register which I guess that’s a policy but, if the guy only walked away with $400, I mean, what’s their amount of money that’s supposed to be in the register? I guess it’s in and out if you’re always getting more money than you’re giving away on a transaction.

NASIR: And, apparently, the excuse was that they had a really busy time period there. And the policy makes sense. I mean, to discourage actual loss and also discourage robbers from actually getting their register full of cash for the day, they do put it into the vault every so often. I’m sure everyone who’s been to the restaurants see that, every once in a while, you’ll see the manager switch out register drawers or whatever, and that’s for that purpose – to keep the cash at a low rate. But, whether that is the real reason that she’s been fired or not, it’s hard to tell because even when their spokesperson from the franchisee discussed this or the spokesperson was unaware of this demand to get the money back so it’s a little ambiguous into that nature as well.

MATT: The person that made the demand was the actual owner of that particular franchise.

NASIR: Oh, yeah. The franchise owner has released an apology both to the manager that was fired but also to the other franchise owners because, if you think about it, I mean, if you own a Popeye’s and this story goes out – you know, we’re talking about it right now – the Popeye’s brand itself is the one that is being damaged here because no one says, “Z&H Foods Inc.” No one’s going to say. “Z&H Foods is the culprit here.” The reason this is a story is because it’s Popeye’s. And so, as a fellow franchisee owner, they wouldn’t be too happy about this kind of negative press and this kind of stuff happens all the time.

MATT: Right, yeah, and that’s part of the reason franchisees pay money, you’re paying for that brand name as part of the deal. And so, this is just directly harming the brand as a whole, not necessarily individual location. I bet there’s not going to be too much change with the individual location. Well, maybe if they know people are going in there with guns and trying to rob the place but in terms of the termination.

NASIR: It’s possible that these kinds of actions could lead to a breach in the franchise agreement, you know?

MATT: Yeah.

NASIR: And you’re right that the point of a franchise is their marketing dollars. But, if one franchise owner ends up damaging the brand, sometimes that can be a cause for breach of the actual franchise agreement to allow them to terminate the agreement and to lose that franchise which is understandable because that’s the value of what they’re doing. The first time this came out, the Popeye corporate was very quick to kind of distance themselves from this franchise owner – that this is a franchise-owned, operated location and, “We don’t think this was handled well,” et cetera.

MATT: Yeah, and I always thought Popeye ate spinach and not chicken so that left me a little bit confused, too.

NASIR: Yeah, agreed. I think that’s one of the biggest problems – their association with Popeye, the Sailor Man.

MATT: Shouldn’t these locations have adequate insurance in place that would have cover in a situation like this?

NASIR: Well, maybe it’s below a deductible? I mean, $400 is not that much, but it goes to the point. Like, $400 at a busy Popeye’s restaurant is not that much, you know. I mean, it sucks – it’s a loss – but it’s not a huge loss. I think it’s an acceptable loss in the course of doing business. If this was the fifth, sixth time or so and this manager is not emptying the cash register as she should, then I understand how upset an owner would be. Even the second time for that matter, frankly. But $400? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like a lot.

MATT: Yeah, and I guess the main reason they said, you know, there was too much cash in the drawer apparently but they also said she was just too chicken about the situation. I can only make that joke because she wasn’t harmed.

NASIR: Yeah, that’s true.

MATT: I’m not going to make it the title of the episode but we could have, I guess.

NASIR: Hey, I’m just surprised no one else did, you know?

MATT: I’m trying to remember… It seems like there was a situation on The Office where Michael Scott tried to get somebody to pay for something in a situation where they definitely shouldn’t. Maybe I just am making that up but it’s definitely something he would have done.

NASIR: I mean, this is digging deep in The Office catalog here, but there was a time where Michael sent Dwight to a gym to spy on a girlfriend or something like that and then Dwight signed up for a membership and then Michael refused to pay him, reimburse him back. I would make the argument that it is an expense that’s been undertaken in the course of their employment and it should be reimbursed by the employer.

MATT: Yeah, okay. I think that’s close enough.

NASIR: Close enough? Okay.

MATT: This isn’t the same but when they had that pizza delivery guy and he refused to accept the coupon.

NASIR: Oh, yeah.

MATT: They held him hostage.

NASIR: Ah, I loved that they were looking up online for what they were doing and they found that they were aiding and abetting of a federal crime.

MATT: Yeah.

NASIR: There is just too many legal issues brought up in that show. We can’t not bring it up in every episode.
All right. I think that’s it for our Monday episode. Thanks for joining us, everyone!

MATT: Yeah, keep it sound and keep it smart.

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Legally Sound | Smart Business covers the top business stories with a legal twist. Hosted by attorneys Nasir N. Pasha and Matt Staub of Pasha Law, Legally Sound | Smart Business is a podcast geared towards small business owners.

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