LINCOLN PARK, Mich. – A lawsuit filed by a woman who worked at a Michigan Kroger store for 31 years described in detail how she confronted a shoplifter and was praised as a “hero” by coworkers before being fired because of the incident.
Bennett was working as a cashier on Sept. 16, 2021, when a man took a cart full of liquor outside the automatic doors and tried to leave the store, the lawsuit says.
Since part of her job as an employee includes theft prevention, Bennett approached the man and asked him for a receipt to prove he had purchased the liquor, according to the lawsuit.
Bennett said the customer had no receipt and was trying to steal the alcohol, so she called for backup and intervened.
Before authorities or other staff members could arrive, Bennett attempted to stop the man from pushing the cart outside the store, resulting in “great peril to herself,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit says that Bennett “brandished a standard carrying basket from the store to ensure that she was not attacked, injured, or otherwise harmed.”
“I swung it at the basket, and I told him, ‘Don’t touch it. You’re not getting this cart,’” Bennett told Local 4.
As the alarm went off, Bennett continued to resist letting the man take the cart of liquor, the lawsuit says. He eventually relinquished the cart and ran away, Bennett said.
He was apparently never taken into custody by police, the lawsuit says.
Bennett claims the entire confrontation was caught on video.
Two days after the attempted shoplifting, Bennett was temporarily suspended from her job at Kroger, the lawsuit says.
After the suspension, Bennett said she attended two union meetings with management to try to explain that she was simply doing her job and trying to stop a thief from stealing Kroger products.
“Kroger surprisingly terminated (Bennett’s) employment on or about Sept. 29, 2021, notwithstanding (her) stellar career with Kroger as a valued employee,” the lawsuit reads.
Bennett said she secured her underlying employment file that shows she was a “valued and dedicated” employee and had no blemishes on her record that warranted punishment.
The lawsuit says that after stopping the shoplifter, Bennett was “initially congratulated, thanked, and called a hero after the incident here at issue by her coworkers, including her supervisor.”
When they learned that she had been fired, Bennett received numerous calls from employees and supervisors who were “greatly surprised” that she lost her job “for essentially trying to protect the products and goods offered for sale by Kroger,” according to the lawsuit.
Kroger tried to articulate an internal policy that had nothing to do with Bennett’s actions to justify her termination, the lawsuit says.
“Kroger was truly utilizing the actions taken by (Bennett) as a mere pretext to getting rid of an old employee who they essentially wanted to simply discard,” it reads.
The lawsuit says Bennett is protected under the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act 453 of 1976, which prohibits many types of discrimination, including on the basis of age.
“The actions taken by the employer were of discriminatory nature and wrongful,” the lawsuit states.
As a result of her firing, Bennett said she lost income, suffered emotional damages, and surrendered pension and benefits.
“To terminate (Bennett) based upon her actions in protecting her employers’ interests and discharging her obligations as she was taught and instructed by the employer constitutes a violation of public policy,” the lawsuit argues.
Bennett’s time at Kroger
Bennett said she got to know many loyal customers at her store throughout the years, and those customers are being told she retired.
“No, I didn’t retire,” Bennett said. “I didn’t have a retirement party. I didn’t say bye to anybody -- none of that, because I was terminated because I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Bennett said coworkers and customers meant everything to her. She said her life has been ruined ever since she lost the job.
“This is devastating,” Bennett said. “I’ve always had my own money and worked my whole life, and then to have nothing.
“I feel devastated, and I feel like I was treated wrong.”
Local 4 asked the Kroger Corporation to comment on the lawsuit and got the following response:
“I shared your request forward with the division team in Michigan. They will reach out if they have something to share, but typically we do not comment on ongoing litigation.”
You can view the full lawsuit below.