Should you take a bullet for your company? Utah Supreme Court considers fired Wal-Mart workers’ case

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit involving company policies and self-defense, which could have impacts on every business in the state.

In January 2011, six workers were fired after they fought with a shoplifter who pulled a gun on them inside a Layton Wal-Mart. The company claimed the employees violated Wal-Mart's policy of disengaging, withdrawing and alerting authorities.

But the employees claim it was a matter of self-defense.

"They're in an office, writing little lawyer things," said Gabriel Stewart, one of the fired employees. "They don't know what it really feels like to be scared and to feel like your life is in jeopardy."

Stewart was the manager of that Wal-Mart. He said he and his co-workers were in a room with the suspect who pulled a gun, unable to just "walk away."

"They saw that my life was threatened and, at a certain point, I think they made a decision to react. It was a natural self-defense," he told FOX 13. "They probably saved my life."

In arguments before the Utah Supreme Court on Wednesday, the fired workers asked for changes to state laws to allow for self-defense.

"We're asking for a reasonable protection for conduct that is in response to a threat of death or bodily injury," their attorney, Lorraine Brown, said.

A lawyer for Wal-Mart said the company's policies are there to specifically ensure workplace safety.

"They're asset protection workers," Wal-Mart attorney Kathleen Toth said. "They're not security guards. They're not armed. They're not trained to tackle or take someone down."

The five justices of the Utah Supreme Court peppered lawyers for both sides with questions, looking beyond the issue of the firing. They noted this could impact other companies in Utah.

"In this instance where it's not safe to withdraw, does an employee's right of self defense trump any employer policy?" asked Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant.

Justice Christine Durham was more blunt, asking Wal-Mart's attorney if it was acceptable "that an employer can fire somebody for refusing to take a bullet for the company?"

The court took the case under advisement. A ruling is expected within the year.

In a statement to FOX 13 late Wednesday, Wal-Mart said:

"Our number one concern is always the safety of our customers and associates. We won't condone behavior where associates take matters into their own hands and act in a manner that jeopardizes the safety of themselves and other people at our stores. We appreciate the state supreme court’s consideration of this important matter, and we look forward to the court’s decision."

 

33 comments

  • bob

    Obvious violation of their basic civil rights. This is no different from telling someone they’re fired because they’re black.

    If you can’t defend your own life then you are a worthless slave. Not a citizen of a “free country.”

    Policies like that of Walmart make targets out of their employees and anyone who is shopping there.

    • Bob is a troll.

      How is this a violation of civil rights? This did not discriminate a specific race, gender, orientation, religion, etc. This policy is enforced on everyone equally, thus not a civil issue… Also, you are one to talk about people’s civil rights, Mr I Know What Nature Intentended… Go troll somewhere else…

      • bob

        In Liberal World “civil rights” are limited to the ones that liberals like, and only when applied to liberals.

        In the United States of America, the civil rights that our Founders believed were most basic and important are spelled out in the Bill of Rights.

        If you don’t have a right to defend yourself then you are of no value as an individual. Your own life is worth nothing. And you certainly have no right to expect other people do do it for you. The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental human right, without which you are nothing but an animal dependent upon your keeper.

        But I’m a troll because I don’t ape the liberal party line. Got it? There will be a quiz later.

      • bob

        Really, liberal? There are no basic human rights that apply to everyone?

        How do you dress yourself with no functional synapses?

      • Bob

        I am Bob, I call everyone liberals and bash the gays because I know all about nature and I am perfect in every way… Listen to my LDS blathering…

      • bob

        There are at least a half dozen bobs at this point. Which one are you talking about?

        I’m a atheist and, on domestic issues, a libertarian. I have no problem with gays, as such. Perhaps you need to specify which “Bob” before you run your liberal mouth.

        And yes, I detest liberals. I think they should be rendered for their fat and the remains cremated.

      • Bob

        There are at least a half dozen bobs at this point. Which one are you talking about?
        It sounds like you need some serious mental help.

      • Bob

        What does the Utah Pride Counseling Center have to do with this story Bob? We’ve seen the troll … and you are it.

    • D.R.

      I didn’t realize that they could escalate UT to someone drawing and then instead of letting him walk run the risk of an accidental homicide causing him to rush out ammeter killing them and realize he’s screwed I’d he doesn’t escape and could kidnap and use my child as a hostage and then kill my child. You are right. Their right to fight over assets is a civil right even if doing so turns a non killer into one with nothing to lose because their finger fired a bullet into their own heart.

      Walmarts policy isn’t a legal policy instead it’s a policy based on human psychology. He messed up and drew a gun and instead of telling him to leave they fight him. A fight that could turn him into a killer. Once a gunshot is heard people would react which coupled to shoppers becoming a threat to him.

      They should have allowed him to put his gun in his pocket, walk out the door and let armed and trained officers investigate and apprehend. They may not value customers lives but Walmart doesn’t want someone trying to intimidate them with a gun to turn into surgery because they attacked him which could then create a volatile situation that could cause him to go on a shooting spree just to avoid prison. To avoid this:

      Oh my god. All I was thinking was brandishing a gum would cause them to let me leave but I just killed someone and don’t want the death sentence or to go to prison. I need to shoot my way out of this situation and flee the state or country.

      That is what Walmart doesn’t want them to cause

      • larryarnold

        [They should have allowed him to put his gun in his pocket, walk out the door and let armed and trained officers investigate and apprehend.]
        That’s a very reasonable response, and I’m sure Wal-Mart’s lawyers will play it for all it’s worth in the courtroom. Unfortunately, in the real world, armed robbers don’t tend to be terribly reasonable people. This one knows that as soon as he leaves the police will be after him, and could have decided it was safer to eliminate witnesses. Even if he was willing to leave the office, turning a desperate, armed criminal loose in a store full of potential hostages is not an optimum solution.

  • Trish Ramirez

    Every human being should have an unalienable right to self defense, whether they are at work or not.
    If someone pulls a gun on you, do you wait to be shot or do you defend yourself?
    No one should be out of the job for choosing to protect their life – for all they knew if they had tried to walk away they would have been shot in the back.
    No corporation should be able to tell their employees they cannot fight for their life if need be.
    That’s ridiculous.

    • Troll Hunter

      And the troll of the year comment goes to Trish,.. Aren’t you the first one to call out Police Officers when they shoot someone to defend themselves? So everyone but Police Officers has the right to defense? Your arguments cannot be taken seriously when you contradict yourself like this… You and Bob are the uber trolls… I mean wow Trish, just wow…

      • Trish Ramirez

        I feel as though you are confused, Eric.

        I believe that employees should have the right to defend themselves against armed assailants, just as I believe the general public should have the right to defend themselves against the armed assailants that are the police force.

        I also believe that police should have the right to defend themselves against armed assailants – but not to shoot unarmed citizens.

        I also don’t think that Walmart employees should be able to start carrying guns and shoot to kill if they merely suspect someone of having a violent intention in the manner that police are trained to do with impunity.

        I’m certainly not a troll. I don’t believe cops should be able to shoot first and ask questions later, going for the most deadly target on unarmed citizens bodies as they sit decked out in body armor.

        ALL humans should have the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves. Shooting an unarmed citizen for simply not responding to your verbal commands is not a reasonable use of force. Tacking and disarming an armed attacker to preserve your life certainly is..

  • Lee Siegel

    Walmart policy may make sense in the big picture but they need to be flexible, and it sure seems like the employees here didn’t have much choice but to act. Typical corporate ruthlessness without a brain. Or heart.

    • bob

      My employer doesn’t allow guns either. I carry anyway. If they want my services, they’ll accept that. And, so far, they have. I make no secret about the fact that I’m armed.

      If they don’t want ME then the feeling is mutual. But requiring a person to surrender his most basic human right as a condition of employment is so wrong I’d expect even a liberal could understand. (But they don’t. They’re compliant, conformist sheep.)

  • Lance

    I have less and less respect for walmart. I have friends that work there and cant even take care of themselves properly. I used to shop at Wal-Mart. I find other deals around town that actually save me more money than walmart. For a “family owned” comoany to be worth 148 billion yet their employees can barely afford some basic necessities of life for their families. Walmart saves you money, I dont think so. I havent shopped at Wal-Mart in several months. I save myself money by shopping elsewhere.

    • Mike the Limey

      “Walmart employees go too far”?
      What planet are you on?
      If someone appears to use a knife then they’re attempting to commit homicide & deserve to end up shot, not just beaten about.
      Where he hit could have pierced a kidney & bleeding out from that is a very real possibility.

  • not BOB

    Wow…….I have read some stupid stuff in my time but……because they chose to fight the individual because he pulled a gun on them…….if he had killed someone IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THEIR FAULT HE WAS NOW A KILLER? Are YOU f’n kidding? A criminal pulls a gun out and you are supposed to bend over and kiss its butt so it feels good about itself? After subduing this piece of excrement they should have snapped its neck like a twig and hung it out the front door with a sign saying ,”don’t…..we fight back”. I bet this is someone who thinks “boomsticks” are dangerous and should only be used by the police who are paid to protect us. GET READY…….police are NOT paid to protect us, they are paid to serve the LAW.

  • Cello

    Was firing the employees necessary? Perhaps employee training on how to react in said situation is needed. Some role playing perhaps? I believe in working together to solve problems. Firing employees for doing what felt right to them at the time is wrong.

  • teebonicus

    Walmart should bite the big one in this lawsuit. The Justice Durham’s question nails it down.

    Nothing, but NOTHING trumps self-defense, and Walmart’s policy as applied to this incident is unarguably wrong.

  • jim

    The problem is they broke policy by not allowing him to leave,blocking the door, before he felt the need to branish the gun. There by causing the situation, that’s why they were fired.

    • ps

      “causing the situation” – You seem to miss the point that the shoplifter caused the problem by shoplifting. Are the employees supposed to just wave goodbye to shoplifters and wish them a nice day on their way out. No. The employees are there to secure the store. That is their job. Otherwise, anyone can walk in, take what they want, and leave without paying. That is not a recipe for corporate profits. The problem is that company policy is in conflict with employee duties.

      As far as tackling the shoplifter is concerned, they did the right thing. Any time someone brandishes a gun or other weapon, it is reasonable to assume that they intend to use it.

      • jim

        The details from the article in 2011 when it happened says they had him detained in the office. Where he pleaded with them to let him leave, all the while he was very anxious. They blocked the door keeping him from fleeing, at which point he felt he had no other choice but to pull the gun. If it were me my instincts would have let him flee, I know a desperate criminal when I see one.

  • mdak06

    The associates were not “taking matters into their own hands.” They were DEFENDING THEMSELVES AND THEIR CO-WORKER.

    Self-defense trumps your pro-death policy, Wal-Mart.

    When a person is behaving in a threatening manner and pulls a weapon out, that person has demonstrated that he/she is a threat and is apparently willing to injure and possibly murder others. The employees are justified in doing whatever they need to in order to stop the threat.

    The corporate lawyers get to make their nice, stupid rules from a comfy office and ignore the reality that there are lunatics who threaten the lives of others.

Comments are closed.