A group of former Wal-Mart workers in Utah who said the company violated their right to self-defense by firing them for disarming suspected shoplifters has settled their lawsuit against the mega-chain.
The workers argued that Wal-Mart’s policy barring workers from fighting back when customers get belligerent forces employees to choose between their safety and their jobs. Wal-Mart has argued they have the right set their own store rules, and they tell employees to stand down so confrontations don’t get out of control.
The Monday settlement comes after the Utah Supreme Court ruled workers can’t be fired for defending themselves if they could be hurt or killed.
A Wal-Mart spokesman confirmed that the case has been settled, but declined to discuss the terms. A lawyer the workers, Lorraine Brown, declined to comment Thursday.
The initial lawsuit was filed over three incidents. In one Layton case, workers saw a man trying to steal a laptop and escorted him into an office in 2011, according to court documents. He was cooperative at first, but once in the office the plaintiffs say he pushed an employee against the wall and put a gun to his back. Three workers took the gun and pinned the man to the wall, but were fired shortly after. Wal-Mart disagrees about exactly what happened, saying the shoplifter tried to leave at one point and kept the weapon in his pocket.
In another case, workers confronted a woman who was trying to stealing about $40 worth of items in West Valley City on Christmas Eve in 2010. As they struggled with her, she pulled out a small pocket knife and threatened to stab them if they didn’t let her go. They lost their jobs after prying the knife out of her hand.
The third incident happened in Cedar Hills, when an assistant manager was fired after intervening in a physical fight between another worker and her husband.
The lawsuit was originally filed in federal court in Salt Lake City, but U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby asked the Utah Supreme Court to decide the question of whether state law prohibited Wal-Mart from firing the workers.
The justices ruled in their favor in September, sending the case back to federal court. The two sides filed a joint motion to dismiss Monday after coming to the settlement agreement.
Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said Wednesday that the store’s has policies in place to protect employees and customers, and they don’t condone behavior that puts either group at risk.
Wal-Mart lawyers have argued that they’re a private business and have a right to set their own store rules. The policy telling workers to walk away from confrontations is designed to keep both employees and customers safe because such altercations can get out of control, Wal-Mart attorney Kathleen Toth argued before the Utah Supreme Court in 2014.
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