Walmart takes a dim view on employee theft, but one employee of an East Greenbush, New York Walmart location never expected that to extend to trash in the parking lot. According to Thomas Smith, Walmart fired him for picking up and redeeming $5.10 worth of discarded cans. He is considering legal action, and a GoFund Me campaign has been set up in his name.
According to reports from local media outlets, Thomas Smith was trying to turn his life around when he took a job as a Walmart parking lot attendant just under three months ago.
The Albany Times Union reported that Smith was paroled last May after serving 15 years in prison for armed robbery. According to Smith, he was addicted to cocaine and heroin at the time, and robbed a bank to pay for the habit.
Smith was homeless for some time after his release, but with help from the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society, along with a $9 an hour job retrieving carts at Walmart, he was on his way to getting back on his feet.
Then, management allegedly called Smith into the security office at the end of an extra shift he had agreed to work due to the store being short staffed. Management and security interrogated Smith about the theft of store property, and he was ultimately fired after signing a statement that accused him of “gross misconduct,” according to the Albany Times Union.
Smith told the Albany Times Union that he wasn’t able to read the statement, since he didn’t bring his glasses to work that day. According to Smith, he signed it because he was afraid that arguing might lead to a parole violation.
The store demanded that Smith pay back the $5.10 worth of nickels he received from turning in discarded cans over the course of several months, but he didn’t have any cash on him. He was so concerned about the situation escalating and resulting in a parole violation that he returned to the store the following Sunday to pay the money back.
Aaron Mullins, a Walmart corporate spokesman, initially told the Albany Times Union that the company doesn’t comment on human resource matters.
Consumerist spoke to a Walmart spokesman who claimed that Smith’s termination was due to “gross misconduct and theft inside the store.” The spokesman also said the firing had nothing to do with cans or bottles picked up outside.
However, there appears to be more to the story than that. Mullins reached out to the Albany Times Union again after the matter went viral on social media, and it would appear that the “theft inside the store” still involved garbage. According to Mullins, Smith wasn’t fired for redeeming cans picked up in the parking lot, but for theft of property inside the store. That property was also discarded cans.
The official story from Walmart is that Thomas Smith redeemed $3.10 worth of cans from the parking lot, which wasn’t a problem. The issue was that he also redeemed, “$2 worth of cans and bottles left in the shopping cart, a few yards off the parking lot, just inside the store’s entryway.”
Thomas, whose job it was to retrieve and organize shopping carts, was apparently supposed to leave the empty bottles and cans for the next customer to deal with, as Walmart labeled the act of redeeming them as “gross misconduct” and immediately fired him.
Whether it was $5.10 or $2 worth of cans, and whether they were in the parking lot or “just inside the store’s entryway,” Thomas feels like he was wronged. According to the former Walmart employee, he never received an employee handbook, and nobody ever told him that redeeming discarded cans wasn’t allowed.
“I never stole anything from that store,” Smith told the Albany Times Union. “I paid for everything I bought inside the store.”
Following his termination, Smith contacted a prisoner advocate and may pursue legal action against the store.
In the meantime, Smith has seen a groundswell of support, with many offering jobs or donations in addition to expressing disgust with Walmart. One supporter set up a GoFundMe campaign, which is on pace to meet a $5,000 goal after just one day.