BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – You wouldn’t think that a retail store manager would have to make a decision between recovering store property and keeping her job but that’s exactly what a Big Lots manager in California says happened to her.
On April 5, at a Big Lots store outside Bakersfield, a customer had apparently loaded his shopping cart with 15 big orange jugs of Tide laundry detergent and headed straight out the door.
Two Big Lots managers followed him out – but not to try and detain him or even confront him. They just wanted to get their shopping cart back after he was finished with it.
A week later, they were both out of jobs, Lily Oxford said. She had been the manager of the store’s furniture section.
“For Christmas, we had just got 40 brand new carts,” Oxford said. “It’s March, we’re down to five carts. So, we are instructed, no carts are to leave that store whatsoever. No matter … customers are not allowed to take it. Nobody’s allowed to take them outside, so we follow them outside, we get the carts. So that was my goal to go outside. I didn’t think it was going to get anything back from them.”
Once taken outside, the cart’s wheel locking mechanism kicked in so the alleged thief had to drag the cart, Oxford said. She and the other manager, who had been trailing far behind, unintentionally caught up as he was allegedly loading the stolen bottles into a getaway car.
Oxford and the other manager took out their phones, and, from a distance of several feet, started recording the scene. That spooked the thief, who climbed out of the car and ran away.
The getaway driver was apologetic.
“The other guy got out of his car and said, ‘Here, ma’am, take it all, take it all,’” Oxford said. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh great, I’m getting all my stuff back.’”
By this time the store employees had an appreciative audience.
“I had people, at least three different people out here, applauding me, because it happens so much,” Oxford said. “So many customers see it happen on a daily basis. At least four to five times a day this happens whether they go out the front door or whether they go out the back door.”
But a week later, both managers were unemployed, Oxford said.
“I really thought I did a good thing by recovering the product but instead I was fired,” she wrote on a GoFundMe page.
Risk management consultant Mike Jelletich, who is not associated with either party in this case, said he sees both sides.
“Some of these employees, they know what’s right and what’s wrong, and they feel, ‘Hey, this is wrong.’ And they think it’s almost their duty to step up and not let this kind of crap happen,” Jelletich said. “However, from the employers’ standpoint, flat out they do not want this employee injured, God forbid killed. … The financial aspect of a person, a guard, a cashier, being injured can really, really get into the high dollar.”
According to Beatriz Trejo, a worker’s comp attorney with Chain Cohn Clark, under California law when an employee is injured on the job, the employer’s insurance carrier can be liable for workers’ compensation benefits such as medical treatment, temporary disability, permanent disability, and vocational retraining. The insurance carrier may be liable for benefits even if the injury arises out of the intentional act of a third party.
Nexstar’s KGET reached out to Big Lots’ corporate office five times in eight days for comment on Big Lots’ general policy regarding these matters but received no response.