A St. Louis County cafeteria manager was fired for giving free lunches to a fourth-grader whose family couldn’t afford to pay for them, leading to broader questions about what should and should not be considered employee theft.
Dianne Brame, for more than two years the cafeteria manager at Hudson Elementary in Webster Groves, Missouri, kept an eye out for a boy who was not in the free lunch program because a language barrier apparently kept the family from applying for it.
Good Deed Gone Wrong
“I sent them paperwork so that they could get back in contact with me, but it didn’t happen,” she told St. Louis’s KTVI TV
She tried to help, first letting the boy “charge” lunches and then—for nearly two months—letting him have lunch without paying or charging it.
“I let his account get over $45 which I’m only supposed to let it get over $10, and I started letting him come through my lunch line without putting his number in, and they look at that as stealing. I thought it was just taking care of a kid,” Brame told the TV station. She said she also was trying to shield him from bullying—something that sometimes happens when kids are seen with cheese sandwiches, which are given to kids without lunch money.
Be Fired or Be Demoted?
Brame, 60, saw it as helping, but her supervisor called it stealing. She was offered a choice: Be fired or be demoted and work at another school. The latter wasn’t an option for Brame. Her husband died in February, she said, and her car had been repossessed. She could work at the elementary school because she could walk there.
And so she accepted being fired.
Brame had no plans to appeal the decision because she knew she broke the rules.
But she stood by her decision to help: “I don’t think any kid should be hungry. I don’t. And it’s my belief that some of these kids who go to school and get meals, that may be the only meal they eat that day.”
After Brame’s story became public—and the negative response was huge—the school district rehired her. A statement released to St. Louis's KDSK TV
said, in part: "Chartwells School Dining Services takes seriously its role in providing healthy meals to school children. An unfortunate misunderstanding arose this week over the status of one of our employees assigned to the Webster Groves, MO, School District, who was serving meals to students at Hudson Elementary School.
"Chartwells is pleased to have resolved this misunderstanding together with the employee and she will be at work, as usual, this coming week. While confidentiality and privacy rules prevent us from providing details on personnel matters, Chartwells appreciates the concern of this employee, and all of our employees, who put the well being of school children first."
Would you fire someone for doing as Brame did? How often have you had to reverse HR or other big decisions after public/customer response?
Read more business news articles.