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Judge rules in favor of Safeway worker who confronted shoplifter

Fired employee will be able to collect unemployment; retailer stands by its decision

A longtime Safeway employee in San Mateo, Calif., who was fired last year after intervening to prevent a shoplifting attempt, did not act inappropriately and is therefore eligible to collect unemployment benefits, a judge in the state’s Employment and Development Department has ruled.

Antoinette Baez and another employee confronted a shoplifter who was attempting to leave the store with $500 worth of groceries after failing to pay at a self-checkout terminal, according to local reports. Baez, who had worked at the store for 22 years, was fired after the company found that the incident violated Safeway’s guidelines for handling such situations, the reports said.

“Safeguarding our associates and customers is our top priority,” said Albertsons Cos., parent of the Safeway banner, in a statement provided to Supermarket News. “We have policies and procedures for interacting with suspected shoplifters that are designed specifically to protect the safety of our customers and associates. The incident was thoroughly investigated, and appropriate action was taken. For privacy reasons, we cannot provide additional details regarding the associates involved.”

Baez previously had been unable to collect unemployment benefits because she had been terminated for misconduct, according to a report on local TV station KRON. The Employment and Development Department originally sided with the retailer, but Baez appealed and a judge there ruled that there was no misconduct on her part, which clears the way for her to collect unemployment dating to when she was terminated, the reports said.

Neil Eisenberg, an attorney for Baez, said Safeway’s policy prohibits workers from making physical contact with suspected shoplifters or from pursuing them. Video shows that Baez only grabbed the bag of the shoplifter, and did not touch her or chase her, he said.

“They can’t fire longstanding employees who have been raised to believe, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’” he said. “What the hell were they thinking? I think this damages their reputation irreparably.”

Eisenberg said he plans to sue the company.

The EDD declined to comment on the case.

Safeway moves to deter theft in D.C.

Separately, some Safeway stores in Washington, D.C., have installed new security measures to deter theft, including fencing and receipt scanners for shoppers exiting the self-checkout area, according to a report in The Georgetowner.

Recent changes were made at select Safeway stores in Washington, D.C., to maintain a safe and welcoming shopping experience for our customers,” Albertsons said in a statement to Supermarket News. “Those updates include operational changes to the front end of the stores to deter shoplifting. Like other local businesses, we are working on ways to curtail escalating theft so we can ensure the wellbeing of our employees and foster a welcoming environment for our customers. These long-planned security improvements were implemented with those goals in mind.”

The move follows increasing concern about retail theft in the Washington, D.C., area, including the closure earlier this year of a CVS drugstore in the D.C. area that was the repeated target of thieves. Last year, Giant Food said it had implemented several measures in its D.C.-area stores to deter theft, including removing branded health and beauty care items and replacing them with private labels.

Elsewhere around the country, a flagship Whole Foods store in downtown San Francisco shut its doors last April, citing concerns over employee safety after incidents of violence and theft at the store. Target, Walgreens, Dollar Tree, and other retailers also have also expressed concerns about rising levels of retail theft.

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