An Oregon court has ordered Walmart to pay $4.4 million in punitive damages to a man who sued the retail giant on allegations that he was racially profiled by a store employee.
Michael Mangum, a 61-year-old Black man, was shopping at a Walmart in Wood Village, Ore. on March 26, 2020, for a refrigerator lightbulb when 32-year-old store theft prevention employee Joe Williams allegedly closely surveilled him during his shopping trip.
When Mangum asked why he was being watch and said he had done nothing wrong, Williams ordered him to leave the store. Williams, who is a co-defendant in the case with Walmart, then called non-emergency police dispatch and summoned police, reporting that he “had a person refusing to leave,” according to the court filing. Williams also initially told police that Mangum threatened to slap him, but later recanted that claim.
“Defendant Williams acknowledged to the dispatch operator that Mr. Mangum was not acting violently, did not seem drunk or high, and told the operator, ‘he just keeps checking me out,’” the court filing said. “Williams told the operator that Mr. Mangum saw him walking by and ‘started flipping out on me,’ so he asked Mr. Mangum to leave.”
Williams told responding police and Mangum that Walmart had experienced significant losses from theft. Mangum then told the manager that the theft had nothing to do with him.
Multnomah County Sheriff deputies responding to Williams’ call refused to take action against Mangum, both because of the shifting explanations as to why he called, and because of Williams’ reputation for making false reports to police.
The deputies interviewed Mangum and Williams and also spoke with a white couple who had witnessed the exchange and were largely sympathetic with Mangum’s account, court records said.
Despite the awarded damages, Walmart denies that Mangum was proactively stopped by employees.
“We do not tolerate discrimination. We believe the verdict is excessive and is not supported by the evidence,” said Randy Hargrove, senior director, national media relations, Walmart in a statement to Sourcing Journal. “Mr. Mangum was never stopped by Walmart’s Asset Protection. He interfered with our associates as they were surveilling and then stopped confirmed shoplifters, and then refused to leave despite being asked to repeatedly by our staff and Multnomah County deputies. We are reviewing our options including post-trial motions.”
In general, Walmart could appeal the verdict or offer a settlement in exchange for not appealing.
Oregon law firm Kafoury & McDougal sued Walmart on Mangum’s behalf for discrimination, negligent retention and summoning police for a wrongful purpose—the third charge being a newly enacted Oregon state law. Kafoury believes Friday’s verdict is the largest sum awarded by a jury in a racial discrimination case in Oregon history.
Greg Kafoury, Mangum’s personal attorney, said “Walmart has no respect for the community.”
“They have no respect for the rights of their customers, and they have no respect for the police,” he added. “The jurors, they awarded every nickel we asked for.”
The store and Walmart corporate officials kept Williams on the job for several more months after the incident, firing him in July 2020 for “mishandling $35 of Walmart property,” the lawsuit said.
Mangum is also set to receive $400,000 in non-economic damages from the suit.
Transgender man alleges discrimination, denial of services
Walmart has another discrimination case on its hands.
A 36-year-old transgender Illinois man filed discrimination charges against the retail giant after being denied services to cash a money order in two stores in Lawrenceville and Olney.
The October 2021 incidents left Skyler Hyatt feeling “humiliated and embarrassed,” according to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU-IL). The organization said that during the first incident, a Walmart supervisor rolled her eyes at Hyatt.
“What should have been a simple transaction turned into an embarrassing and painful experience,” said Hyatt in filing the complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. “Transgender people like me exist in every corner of Illinois. And many of us depend on services from stores like Walmart to navigate life without outing ourselves at every turn. As a corporation that claims to support LGBTQ rights across the country, my hope is that Walmart can make sure that no other transgender person experiences this discrimination again.”
At the Lawrenceville Walmart, Hyatt presented a money order to be cashed. Along with the money order, Hyatt produced a valid Illinois driver’s license with the name matching the name on the money order. The license had the gender marked as male, reflect Hyatt’s legal name of “Melissa” and a photo of Hyatt as he appears today with a short haircut and facial hair.
Hyatt has been unable to afford the process of changing his name under Illinois law to reflect his identity as Skyler Hyatt, ACLU-IL said.
The Walmart supervisor looked at the money order and state identification and “made a face of disgust,” according to the nonprofit. Hyatt then said he had been unable to change his name because of the cost of the process. The supervisor rolled her eyes and denied service to Hyatt.
A few days later, Hyatt and his wife went to the Olney Walmart, again presenting a valid driver’s license and money order, with the names matching up on both documents. This time, Hyatt was told that Walmart would not cash the money order because it had been “red flagged.”
“The name on the money order and identification aligned, and the photo on the license matched Skyler’s appearance,” said Michelle García, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Illinois who is representing Hyatt in his complaint. “The only reason that Walmart repeatedly denied Skyler service is that he is transgender. And that is a clear violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act.”
The following day, Hyatt and his wife used a money order to open a new bank account. When they told the bank employee that Walmart would not cash the money order, she said that it didn’t make sense since the documents all matched.
“In the days after talking to the bank employee, I began to think that I needed to tell my story,” Hyatt said. “A lot of young people—young, transgender people—will rely on a place like Walmart to process their first paycheck or a gift from a family member. I don’t want them to go through this sort of discrimination.”
The charges were filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights on Aug. 12.