No sympathy for those who don't stop to think that it's not their money
It could very well be the truth that she contacted the catering department, but why not payroll? Meanwhile, after not receiving any answers for an unspecified time and unsure either way about the size of the check, she decided to cash it anyway and spend the money. Evidently she never tried to reason with herself that Notre Dame is a business, not a charity, and definitely not in the habit of giving out thousands of dollars for no stated reason.
A prudent, reasonable person would have waited to verify that the amount was correct. Despite her attempt to turn it into a sob story, she acted recklessly and is therefore responsible for making restitution for money that was never hers. Her situation is much like the occasional family that makes the news for blowing through excess money that an ATM spits out -- "excess" meaning it exceeded what they had on deposit, which means they knew it wasn't theirs. This news story is about college students too stupid to realize that banks can track these errors and turn names over to the police.
Good luck to Sara in any future job searches. Now her name is all over search engines as someone who'll cash a paycheck for a mistaken amount, then blame the employer. Who now will want to trust her?
Update: this gives more details, and unbelievable insight into Sara's mentality. It seems it wasn't a physical check, but direct deposit. Nonetheless, Sara should have waited. Instead:
When she didn't hear back, Gaspar said she assumed the gratuity was intentional. After years of medical problems and hard times, she believed she was finally catching a break.This article also doesn't say precisely when, but it could have been as early as May 1st (exactly two weeks after her excess payday). Payroll and HR departments can work that slowly, especially when conducting an internal investigation to find out exactly what happened. So Sara decided that this was, what, manna from heaven? That Notre Dame decided to give her $29,000 (a strange amount when you think about it, why not $25K or $30K?) as an act of charity, but on a paycheck and marked as a tip?
"I was so excited," Gaspar said. "I thought, I could pay some of these bills."
The former employee has also since contacted an attorney and says she was told that because the money was under "gratuity" and not "wages" that she was in the clear.
The enormous tip indeed went toward medical bills and a 2002 Volkswagen Jetta, Gaspar said.
It wasn't until May that university officials discovered the mistake and contacted Gaspar, according to court documents. Notre Dame is now seeking repayment of the $29,387 plus attorney fees and other court expenses.
The attorney she initially contacted either gave her bad advice or was not aware of all the facts. The nature of the payment does not matter here. If it was a customer directly giving her a large tip, then she'd be entitled to it. That was not what happened, however. This was the case of a private party mistakenly overpaying another.