Big-Box Banishment: Wal-Mart Bans Gay Couple From Store for Life After They Prove Their Did NOT Shoplift

225px-new_walmart_logosvgj26Attorneys Joe Paolucci and Thomas Hitchcock were declared persona non grata recently by Wal-Mart – banished from the store for life. Their banishment came after they had proven that they had not shoplifted a package of bic lighters from the store. The gay couple alleges that before the banishment they were subject to abusive homophobic treatment by store employees, who seemed intent on showing that they shoplifted that lighters worth $15.84.

The incident occurred in August when Paolucci — a former general counsel for a real estate company — went with his partner and their adopted twin boys from Romania. The boys are 11 years old with special needs and the men wanted to buy them a reward for being good that day. The couple owns a store in the nearby town.

While Hitchcock bought the groceries, Paolocci made a couple trips to buy additional items — using the self-check out line. After he bought the lighters, he and Hitchcock walked out with their boys when they were stopped by a group of Wal-Mart employees who accused them of shoplifting the lighters. They expected immediate apologies when they showed them the receipt but, they said that the employees began to use vulgar language and yelling at them — causing their boys to start “crying, screaming and freaking out.”

They were told that they would have to go to the “detention room.” Unwilling to go anywhere with these employees, they declined and insisted on speaking to the manager. They say that manager came out, announced that he was the manager, and then promptly walked away.

Notably, when the police arrived, they also reportedly refused to speak with the men. Instead, they cuffed Paolucci and put both men in separate patrol cars. The boys were taken without their consent to the “detention room” and put into the care of the very same Wal-Mart employees.

The Berrien County (MI) Sheriff’s Department allegedly only spoke to the men after reviewing the tapes and concluding that their was no shoplifting. No one apologized to the men. Eventually the twin boys were brought back to their parents.

Now, here is the kicker. When the Wal-Mart employees came back out, they read from a statement that was not an apology but a banishment for life. The public declaration adds a nice medieval touch to the scene. Their status as persona wal-marta non grata was due to their “being uncooperative.”

They were told that if they did not leave the premises immediately, they would be arrested as trespassers.

The men later called police to complain that one of the twins had been injured by employees when they were shoved into the detention room. They wanted their own charges filed against the store, but no such charges have been brought by the police.
The police report says that Paolucci and Hitchcock were “causing a scene, being very loud and disrupting customers while yelling and swearing at Wal-Mart security.” The officers admit that they did threaten to put the boys in custody if they did not quiet down. They also admit that the tapes clearly showed that no crime had been committed.

However, the couple has produced a letter from a law firm representing Wal-Mart where Wal-Mart insists that they are shoplifters and demands $158.40 payment (or will seek legal action). Wal-Mart has long been criticized for abusive and senseless litigation positions, here and here. That is 10 times the value of the items that the police determine never not shoplifted.

Of course, this is still better than now Wal-Mart employees handle suspected shoplifters in China, here. Once again, it is not clear what this blog would do without Wal-Mart.

Just for the future, this is how banishment are properly done:

For the full story, click here.

42 thoughts on “Big-Box Banishment: Wal-Mart Bans Gay Couple From Store for Life After They Prove Their Did NOT Shoplift”

  1. Gyges:

    I agree, the only decent stuff to buy at wal-mart are things like toilet paper and shampoo and candy.

    I usually by bulk items at Costco and I don’t think I have ever bought much at wal-mart, some shotguns shells and some cheap camping equipment I needed in a hurry. Oh and some seeds for my garden, but half of those didn’t even come up (germinate for all you botanists).

    I have a friend that is working there as a greater, she has a bad back and they wont let her great from a chair. That is actually pretty crappy. Even I would allow a chair great a couple of times a day.

    I would make the employee wear a sign that read – “I have a bad back and my boss is kind enough to let me sit for 5 minuets every hour”

    I wouldn’t want to let them sit for more than 5 minuets though, it might be bad for business. Makes the other employees think you are soft.

  2. Byron,

    I knew you were trying to make the most absurd rationalization you could to demonstrate how there was no real defense for this.

    If you want my honest reason I don’t patronize Wal-Mart it’s because the costumer service is lousy, the products are sub-par, and for the kind of stuff I buy it’s not noticeably cheaper.

    Now if it had good costumer service and abused the same abusive policies towards it’s employees (which I’d wager is impossible, as I’m sure you know: you treat your employees like garbage, you get garbage for employees), then I might consider their policies as a deciding factor.

  3. Mike S:

    I think what Wal-Mart did was pretty bad. I was actually joking around about trying to defend them since you know how I am.

    I also stated at the end that I am probably going to stop shopping there. Not that I shop there much anyway so it wouldn’t really be missed.

  4. @rafflaw “Good Old Wal Mart is at it again. How can one store do so much damage to the Constitution in one day?”

    Damage the Constitution? I agree it’s hard to tell where big business ends and big government begins, but I’m not ready to call Walmart the government quite yet.

    I think a civil suit will address this kind of over the top incident by Walmart and its employees. One wonders why the police seem to be so unhelpful and “neutral’ in this story. It appears they pretty much were working for just one of the two parties in this fiasco.

  5. There’s More, thanks for the info. It looks like Indiana (and probably every other State) has in effect deputized certain retail industry workers and managers regarding certain kinds of alleged criminal activity.

  6. Indiana Law permits the store employees to detain the person accused of theft for up to 2 hours.

    The customer left the store without paying for the lighters.

    Video may demonstrate that the customer did pass the lighters in front of the scanner, but that doesn’t mean the scanner recognized or recorded the item.

  7. Rich: “Since when do stores have the right to be in loco parentis.”

    I echo Rich’s question/concern on this one. If your neighbor detained your children for some reason it might be called kidnapping. Also, I recall when department stores and the first generations of big box stores had security personnel, not guards but suit and tie guys with name tags that said ‘store security’ that took care of asking people to show a receipt etc., there was a degree of formality and professionalism to the encounter.

    Now it seems that groups of store employees with or without a store manager in tow, can surround and detain members of the public. I have never understood the premise that a civilian, even those with the ‘store security’ badges, could detain anyone. Get a license plate number and pass it on to police? Yes, of course, but actually detain someone with legal immunity for doing so, not so much.

  8. Shop at Wal-Mart?

    Never been there.
    Never done that.
    Never plan to.

    The folks in charge of that corporation only care about making tons of money for themselves. It doesn’t seem to bother them that they’ve been responsible for putting other American companies out of business and Americans out of work with their demands for lowlowlow prices. Don’t companies like Wal-Mart just love that “greed is good” mantra they’ve been intoning for years.

  9. Byron,
    In defense of your political views sometimes you box yourself into a rhetorical corner. The actions on Wal-Mat’s part were totally unjustified and the other part of the problem is that the stores usually have big clout in small communities, thereby explaining the police stupidity. The fact that this was a gay couple in south Bend, Indiana no doubt plays a large role. Wal-Mart is a corporate criminal in so many ways. While it is hard for you, Byron to believe it, given your need to justify corporate actions to bolster your political belief systems, most major corporations are by definition amoral operations that mouth “customer service,” yet by necessity worship the “bottom line.”

  10. The Tribune has no trouble writing nasty things about Sam Zell who bankrupted them. The article about the school is ambiguous as to the locus of the problem–difficult kids, anti-gay environment, or pushy parents. A kind of “so what”.

  11. The kids are Romanian, so unlikely to be Black ditto the ‘rents esp. with a name ending in “i”.

    The idea that the store can take kids into their custody is probably the most bizarre aspect of this. Since when do stores have the right to be in loco parentis. It’s not clear that the child welfare authorities were ever called.

    Byron’s comments is just silly–one could not set-up something so ridiculous. If they knew this would heppen it would be based on something equally egregious. I hope they get enough from Wal-Mart to retire on. The chain seems very interested in nickle and dime tyranny with customers and line employees while losing millions in Japan and running a business model that forces them to make their profits from check cashing and wire transfers because they use discounted, low margin items to drive volume. At some point, the house of cards will fall.

  12. An additional thought: at Wal-Mart when you try to buy lighters (and a whole bunch of other stuff), the scanner alerts the cashier. They don’t want lighters being sold to minors. At the self-checkout line, the attendant would have had to approve the scan before a receipt was issued.

  13. They expected immediate apologies when they showed them the receipt that clearly lists the lighters are purchased.

    From the linked story, I did not get the sense that the items showed up on the receipt. It appears that the items did not appear on the receipt even though the video showed the items being scanned.

  14. I guess Walmart will get burnt for trying to burn these gays. It appears that False Imprisonment will lie for everyone as well as assault against the minor children.

    I have not read the story (main article) but will surmise that the men were black and the children were either black or part black. I will state that the Unemployment rate is about 25% higher than the rest of the US worst city. Shoplifting is high as well as Burglary’s and other forms of related larceny’s.

    The store demanded the civil monetary damages fine of 150.00, so in Walmarts world they have shoplifted. In Walmarts world then they can be banned from that store. I have a feeling that Walmart will be settling this matter very quietly as the store may burn, knowing the culture heritage.

    FYI, this was one of the points during the civil war of the underground railroad. This is still a mind set for a number of individuals. If you go a little north you start to the dutch area such as Zeeland or Holland. Then it is pretty much all white with a very low racial minority, until you get to Muskegon which is about 55 per cent minority.

    This does not surprise me in the least that this happened.

  15. Absolute (economic) power corrupts absolutely — and gets the cops on your side.

  16. Good Old Wal Mart is at it again. How can one store do so much damage to the Constitution in one day? First they are held for shoplifting when they have a paid receipt and then they are abused by the staff and even the police got into the act by handcuffing knowingly innocent citizens. When will people realize that not only are Wal-Mart’s abusive to their customers and their employees, but that they also threaten suppliers that their price has to be less than any other store in order that they can undercut the competition? Just one more reason to avoid Wal Mart entirely.

  17. Buddha, Gyges, Mike Spindell:

    you got me on this one, I cant say a thing in defense of Wal-Mart.

    But I will try. Could there be the possibility of a set up by these 2 lawyers? It actually looks like they may get a good deal of money from Wal-Mart for the egregious behavior of the employees.

    I wonder if they will have bumper stickers made up:

    “Honk if you were bansished for life by Wal-Mart”

    Ok, I will stop shopping at Wal-Mart, it is all too much even for me. I really didnt buy much from there anyway.

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