An Oregon man who says he was followed and racially profiled by a Walmart employee is now set to be more than $4 million richer after a successful lawsuit against the retail giant.
“I felt profiled, discriminated against, uncomfortable,” said Michael Mangum, the Portland, Oregon, man at the center of the lawsuit.
Michael Mangum, 61, who is Black, says on March 26, 2020, he was looking to buy a light bulb for his refrigerator when he went to Walmart. While at the store, he encountered Joe Williams, a now-former Walmart employee working for its loss prevention unit, who reportedly kept a close eye on Mangum.
After several minutes of being watched, Mangum confronted Williams as a white couple was nearby on the same aisle.
“His response was, ‘I’m not looking at neither one of you,’ and I said, whatever, and I kept shopping,” Mangum said before describing how the encounter quickly escalated. ”Then words were exchanged, and then he ordered me to leave the store.”
Mangum’s cellphone recording captures what happened next.
“I need you to leave the store,” it depicts Williams saying.
“Man I’m not leaving the store, I haven’t done nothing,” Mangum replied while recording his exchange with Williams.
According to the lawsuit, Williams called Multnomah Sheriff’s deputies, who are also seen on Mangum’s recorded cellphone video.
“One of the officers said, you’re going to have to leave the store, finish shopping and leave the store and I kept saying, I’m not going anywhere because I haven’t done anything,” Mangum said of the exchange before he continued shopping and purchasing his refrigerator lightbulb.
Mangum’s attorney, Jason Kafoury, says Williams had a history of falsely accusing customers of illegal activity and making threats, and deputies knew this. Mangum’s cellphone recording shows Williams also claimed Mangum had threatened him.
“The local deputy sheriffs, the ones who respond to police calls in this area, didn’t believe a word that came out of Joe Williams’ mouth,” said Kafoury.
Ultimately, the deputies refused to intervene in the situation, and Mangum was able to complete his light bulb purchase and leave the store without coming to harm.
The lawsuit also lays blame on Walmart for keeping Williams employed for months following the incident on March 26, 2020, with knowledge of his history of false accusations against customers.
“This man stayed on the job for months and months afterward, until he was finally fired for dishonesty for $34 in Walmart property,” said Kafoury.
Mangum’s decision to record the racial profiling incident he experienced potentially helped his case, as a jury agreed he was a victim of racial discrimination and awarded him $4.4 million in punitive damages against Walmart.
Atlanta Black Star sought comment from Walmart on the jury verdict. Company spokesman Randy Hargrove issued a statement:
“We do not tolerate discrimination. We believe the verdict is excessive and is not supported by the evidence. 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.”
“If you look at their actual statement, they’re not disputing anything, they’re not saying he wasn’t threatened, they’re not saying, the police weren’t called on him, they’re not saying that the police knew this guy was a habitual liar,” said Kafoury about Walmart’s response to the lawsuit.
Mangum says he happy to have the racial profiling case behind him, because as a counselor working with at-risk youth, false accusations that led to an arrest could have cost him his job.
“I’m working with tons of youth in the community trying to send a positive message,” Mangum said.
Kafoury shares advice for others subjected to racial profiling.
“Take out your phone, record and you be the coolest person on the recording, you don’t swear, you don’t get angry you just really tone down and let them make fools of themselves and you preserve it,” Kafoury said.