How hard is it to gain ground in America if you’re a homeless, African-American ex-con?
Some might call Thomas Smith a model employee: he went above and beyond what was required of him for his job, cleaning up carts in the parking lot at the East Greenbush, New York, Walmart. Mr. Smith took it upon himself to clear out discarded cans and bottles left in the parking lot while he went about his business.
Now others might laud Mr. Smith for his initiative in redeeming this trash for the New York can redemption value, which runs five cents an item. Perhaps the $5.10 wasn’t a lot of money to most, especially a large corporation like Walmart, but for Mr. Smith it was a bit of pocket change to maybe buy a meal or go towards his rent that was hard to come by at his $9 an hour job.
However, to Walmart, taking the garbage out of their parking lot and then redeeming the value of the cans was considered theft of company property. That’s right, discarded cans and bottles in the parking lot were considered assets of the Walmart corporation. Mr. Smith was fired for this offense, without warning, and without realizing it was even against company policy for employees to redeem cans (so very, very valuable).
Then some might have noted that Mr. Smith was truly a reformed man and one worthy of employ, as he took an hour-plus-long bus ride back to Walmart in order to return the $5.10 even after he’d been fired. For which he was simply shown the door again.
Of course, the cashier at the same store who had recently pocketed $20 at the register and was caught was allowed to return the money — a person of a different race — was not fired.
"I did the right thing and stayed out of trouble. I worked hard and did a good job. I ended up getting a raw deal," said Smith, who is on parole after being released from prison in May.
Perhaps there is more to this story. But Walmart, as ever with such cases with so many companies, won’t comment on “personnel matters” — so who’s to know.