Target workers claim 'walk of shame' that allegedly led to a suicide is a widespread practice

Graham GentlesFacebook/Graham Gentles MemorialGraham Gentles, left, jumped to his death after he was allegedly humiliated by managers at the Target store where he worked.

Target employees claim the retailer has a practice of parading workers through stores in handcuffs to discourage theft and other infractions.

The practice is informally referred to as the “walk of shame” among employees and managers, according to more than a half dozen workers contacted by Business Insider.

The company is currently being sued by a California woman whose son, 22-year-old Graham Gentles, committed suicide after allegedly being subjected to the “walk of shame.”

Gentles was “shocked, confused and mortified at being handcuffed and walked through the Target store in front of coworkers and store customers” in July and he “had no idea why he was being arrested,” the suit states.

He was later escorted to a police car and taken to the police department. But he was eventually released and never charged with a crime.

Gentles, who had Asperger’s Syndrome, “experienced severe emotional distress” following the incident, according to the lawsuit. Three days later, he killed himself by jumping from the roof of a hotel.

Jason Kellner, 37,  said he was subjected to similar treatment by his managers at a Target store in Oxford, Ala., in 2011. At the time, he had worked for Target for nine years and was working as a senior team leader.

Kellner said he was standing in the electronics department one day with coworkers when security personnel approached him and without explanation, led him to the front of the store.

He claims he was met there by police officers, who asked him for his name, then pushed him against a window outside the store and handcuffed him. 

“I was so embarrassed,” Kellner told Business Insider. “It was humiliating. All the customers were staring and I had no idea what was going on.”

It turned out that the managers had confused Kellner for another employee with a similar name who was suspected of stealing, according to Kellner.

“I never even got an apology,” he said. “I don’t understand how they can do that to people and get away with it.”

Former Target employee Malkeevia Lewis, who worked at a Miami store, says she was subjected to the so-called walk of shame for changing prices at the register — which she claims a manager had directed her to do.

“I was wrongfully accused of stealing money and giving away items,” Lewis said. “I was handcuffed and got walked out [of the store] to be humiliated.”

She said she hasn’t been able to find work since she was fired. “Target… took my whole life from me,” she said. “I spent two nights in jail and haven’t worked since Sept. 5.”

A former Target employee of a Compton, Calif., store said the same thing happened to him, but claims he was never convicted of a crime. He had been working for Target for more than three years when he was called into a back room and interrogated by his managers, he said. 

He said he didn’t know why he was being fired and thought it might be because he hadn’t clocked out during his work breaks. Following the meeting, “They handcuffed me and walked me from the back-of-the-store office all the way out to the front of the store” to a police car, he said.

Then one of the officers allegedly told him he was free to go.

“Why… walk me through the store like that only to let me go once we got outside?” he said.

Another former worker, Danielle Sherman, said she was employed as a seasonal worker by Target in Crystal, Minn. when she was in high school.

Sherman said her dreams of eventually working for the corporate office were shattered when she was fired for not clocking out during work breaks. 

“The break rules were confusing and I thought you didn’t clock out. So they had me under investigation for ‘blatant time theft,'” she said. “I was escorted out of the building by an officer and had a police escort home to my mortified parents.”

She claims that when she went to school the following day, many students had found out what happened and she was humiliated.

Several other employees contacted Business Insider with similar stories and Patrick McNicholas, the lawyer representing Gentles’ mother, claims he has more than 40 contacts who have either witnessed or been subjected to a walk of shame.

“Those contacts include former and current employees and former and current managers, as well as risk management people from Target,” McNicholas told Business Insider.

“It’s an unwritten policy and the practice is well known,” he said.

Target denies that it has any such policy.

“The allegations in the lawsuit of a Target policy or practice are simply not true,” a spokesman said when asked about the lawsuit involving former worker Graham Gentles. “There is no such policy.”

The company did not elaborate on the guidance it gives managers in situations where employees are suspected of theft or other infractions that could involve law enforcement.

But we spoke to a former Target manager who offered more details on what happens when an employee is suspected of wrongdoing.

Joseph Sivick worked at Target as an executive team leader from 2002 to 2014. Here’s what he told us: 

“If a team member is being accused of stealing or a crime they are usually called in to the Human Resources or Assets Protection office where they are interviewed by a member of the store leadership team along with the Asset Protection leader.

If in the opinion of the store team based on the interview in conjunction with the evidence complied throughout the investigation the team member is thought to have committed the crime (such as theft) that they are being accused of, the local law enforcement are notified.

Law enforcement then takes over at that point and they make the decision whether the team member is arrested, handcuffed, and removed from the building based upon the crime.

The team member is typically removed through an entrance off of the office areas, to minimize exposure of the incident and maintain confidentiality. However if no entrance is available then the team member is escorted through the front of the store and removed from Target property. This is typically the procedure but it may not have been what happened in this instance.”

A current manager also told Business Insider that Target does not encourage managers to walk employees through stores in handcuffs.

“When there is proof, and only [if there is] proof, of a team member stealing … we have local police arrest a team member in a discreet location away from guests and co workers,” he said. “If what happened [to Graham Gentles] is true then it sounds to me like the store didn’t follow protocol.”

Nashville defence attorney David Raybin said it’s not unheard of for retailers to use public shaming to deter employee infractions.

“There is a philosophy among some retail establishments that if they shame people or threaten to shame people that will act as a deterrent to employee theft,” he said. “It’s simply a dreadful policy and there are innumerable reasons why.”

By shaming employees, companies “open themselves up to enormous liability,” he said. “Employers would be well served to have a policy in place specifically prohibiting this.”

If you work at Target and have a story to share, email us at [email protected] 

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