LAYTON — They were fired after disarming a gunman in their store who said, “Don’t make me do this.”
Now, those workers from a Layton Walmart are at the heart of a lawsuit filed against the world’s largest retailer.
Three former employees at the Layton store, a former manager in the Cedar Hills store and two former West Valley loss prevention workers are the plaintiffs.
Their lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Farmington's 2nd District Court, names six causes, including wrongful termination and violation of plaintiffs’ right to self-defense under the Second Amendment.
“Our concern is that Walmart has put their employees and customers at risk to preserve their bottom line,” said attorney Lorraine Brown.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for the loss of what Brown terms “career positions.” They also are seeking compensatory damages for “emotional distress, humiliation and anguish,” among other things.
For many of the workers, it has been a tough road since their terminations. Shawn Ray, fired from the Layton Walmart for intervening and stopping the shoplifter with the gun, still has not found a new job more than three months later. Before, he’d been planning to move into a new house.
“The bills are piling up,” Ray said Thursday. “The house is not even an option now.”
Ray maintains that how he, Gabriel Stewart, Lori Poulsen and Justin Richins acted was “the right thing to do.” Richins is not part of the lawsuit and has found a new job, according to Brown.
Derek Holt and Eric Hunter, other plaintiffs in the case, feel the same way. Holt was a loss prevention manager and Hunter was a loss prevention associate at the Walmart at 3180 S. 5600 West in West Valley City.
Last Christmas Eve, they were trying to escort a shoplifter when she pulled out a knife.
“Eric Hunter started screaming, ‘Knife!’ and that’s when we had a hold of her,” Holt recalled.
As Holt looked for the knife, he said he found it pointed right at his back. As the workers were struggling with the woman, a customer ran up and grabbed the knife. The two employees were later fired.
“I’m glad that somebody’s finally standing up and trying to get them to at least change their policies because I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Holt said.
The sentiment has also been expressed by the sixth plaintiff, James Dallin. He explained in February that he had acted quickly to protect a co-worker in a domestic violence incident in the store. He was fired as well.
“If I’m a shopper at Cedar Hills or if I’m a shopper at the Layton Walmart, I’m certainly concerned,” Dallin said then.
Walmart was quick Thursday to dismiss the basis behind the lawsuit.
“We just can’t have associates trying to take matters into their own hands,” Walmart spokesman Greg Rossiter said. He said Walmart’s policy is standard with other retailers and is “in place to help ensure everyone’s safety.”
A copy of Walmart's policy concerning how to deal with shoplifters, obtained in February, instructs employees that if a weapon is drawn during an encounter with a shoplifter, associates are supposed to “disengage” and “withdraw.”
Rossiter also said the information provided by the former workers did “not accurately reflect what took place.”
The plaintiffs are sticking to their stories, and hoping to stick Walmart for damages to help their struggling families.
“That’s all gone out the window, so we’re looking at reimbursement for lost wages and that career position,” Brown said.