A Mobile County judge on Monday ordered Walmart to pay $2.1 million to a woman who filed a lawsuit after employees accused her of stealing items she said she already paid for during a November 2016 shopping trip.
“I hope it makes a difference. I don’t want anybody else to have to go through this again,” Lesleigh Nurse told WKRG.
Nurse said she sought help from Walmart employee when the self-checkout machine she was using at the Semmes, Alabama, store malfunctioned. Then, under the belief that she’d paid, Nurse, her husband and their children headed toward the exit.
An asset protection manager approached the family and accused Nurse of stealing 11 items, totaling $48.
“I remember going in that little room and thinking this will be resolved, this is an accident, this isn’t on purpose,” said Nurse.
She was arrested and charged with shoplifting. The charge was dropped when Walmart representatives failed to show up in court. But for Nurse, the damage was already done, she told WKRG.
Nurse claims the criminal charge damaged her reputation and impeded her ability to find work. She said law firms affiliated with Walmart also sent letters threatening a civil suit unless Nurse agreed to pay $200.
“At first you think ‘well, I’ll pay it and it will all go away,’” Nurse said. “But then I’m like, I didn’t do anything wrong. Why would I pay for something I didn’t do?”
She filed a lawsuit against Walmart alleging the company engaged in “abuse of process” and used criminal charges to boost chances of receiving civil recovery from those accused of shoplifting.
“Walmart funds its asset protection department by intimidating those falsely accused of shoplifting out of making a claim against Walmart out of fear of protracted litigation against an almost limitlessly funded corporate giant,” the suit says, according to AL.com.
An expert testified during the trial that Walmart regularly uses civil recovery laws to get accused shoplifters to pay money.
Vince Kilborn, an attorney for Nurse told WKRG, “Exactly, they prosecute her solely for the purpose of getting what they call civil recovery or money.” Kilborn said Walmart was not able to produce footage proving Nurse stole from the store.
A jury unanimously approved a $2.1 million settlement for Nurse in the suit filed in 2018.
A Walmart spokesperson said it plans to challenge the decision.
“We want our customers to have a safe, pleasant shopping experience in our stores. We take measures to help prevent, identify and appropriately handle instances of theft, which is a problem for all retailers that costs the overall U.S. economy tens of billions of dollars each year. We continue to believe our associates acted appropriately,” the spokesman said.
Instances of Black shoppers wrongly accused of shoplifting regularly make headlines. In 2018, a Nordstrom Rack apologized for falsely accusing two Black teens of stealing.
A Black fifth grader was falsely accused of stealing from a Safeway in May in San Francisco. In January, Target fired an employee who wrongly accused Black teens of stealing from the store.
And in a notorious incident from an Atlanta Walmart 2014, a 69-year-old Black man was beaten with a baton by a police officer working security after being accused of stealing a tomato, one the man actually had purchased. The man suffered cracked bones in one leg and a ruptured artery, and the officer eventually was convicted on federal charges related to the beating and sentenced to five years in prison.
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