Malaika Jabali www.essence.com
The ongoing fight against racism across this country gets another swift kick in the pants by two lifelong friends who are taking on a corporate supergiant.
Dennis Stewart, a former police officer, and Terence Richardson, a church pastor, said Walmart store employees discriminated against them because of their race, leading to theft accusations and being placed in handcuffs.
According to a federal lawsuit filed last Thursday by Stewart and Richardson, the men went on a routine trip to the store to exchange a defective 58-inch television one of them purchased earlier that day on Sept. 10, 2020.
The Conroe, Texas, Walmart employees were presented with the $300.94 receipt purchased by Stewart at the customer service counter, the lawsuit said. After hours spent under examination, four white police officers “approached them from behind and instructed them to put their hands on their head, ordered them not to move, searched their bodies and emptied their pockets, and handcuffed them as criminals in plain view of everyone at the vicinity.”
Eventually, the men were freed from the handcuffs but were accosted by a woman employee who screamed at them to “take the TV and get the f–k out of this store, and never come f—–g back,” the filing read. In addition to all of the calamity caused, the men, according to the lawsuit, were required to sign a “Criminal Trespass Warning,” which guarantees that criminal charges remain on file at Walmart if the men try to return to the store.
According to the suit, Stewart and Richardson are asking for a jury trial as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
Walmart Stores Texas, LLC, and multiple store employees identified as John and Jane Doe(s) are also named in the civil suit as defendants.
Stewart and Richardson allege they were falsely imprisoned and discriminated against because of their race. The moment in handcuffs was traumatic and degrading, specifically for Stewart, who broke down while detained inside the store.
“Plaintiffs repeatedly asked for an explanation for being detained, searched, handcuffed and embarrassed in such a demeaning fashion, and also why the defective television was not allowed to be exchanged,” the lawsuit said via NBC News.
Last week, Walmart released a statement regarding the situation, writing, “We do not tolerate discrimination and take allegations like this seriously. When the claims were brought to our attention in April of this year, we investigated them. We are not getting into further detail given the litigation and will respond as appropriate with the court.”
Stewart, 55, who now works as a road foreman and is a church deacon, and Richardson, 53, allege a breach of contract with Walmart because the former was not allowed to exchange the television or get his money back. Employees were said by the duo to be “grossly negligent” because their actions could have escalated the situation between themselves and the police.
“Officers could have mistaken the situation and, as Black men, they could have been shot, injured or permanently disfigured,” the filing said.
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