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Carter v. Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 25, 2017

WILBURN CARTER, an individual, Plaintiff,
BASS PRO OUTDOOR WORLD, LLC, dba BASS PRO SHOPS, INC., a foreign limited liability company, Defendant.



         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support Thereof, filed July 7, 2017. On July 28, 2017, plaintiff responded, and on August 4, 2017, defendant replied. Based on the parties' submissions, the Court makes its determination.

         I. Introduction[1]

         Defendant (“Bass Pro”) is a retailer of hunting, fishing, camping, and related outdoor recreation merchandise. In October of 2013, Bass Pro hired plaintiff, Wilburn Carter (“Carter”), as a sales associate. Carter's responsibilities as a sales associate included greeting and acknowledging customers, handling merchandise, and answering product questions. Carter consistently received positive performance evaluations and yearly wage increases. During the relevant time period, giving rise to this action, Bass Pro had an Associate Handbook setting forth policies and procedures for all Bass Pro employees. Plaintiff admitted, in his deposition testimony, that he understood he needed to comply with all policies and procedures outlined in the Handbook.

         On January 15, 2016, Carter was in the bathroom at Bass Pro and heard a person enter a stall next to him. Carter then heard packaging being ripped open. Carter went to the trashcan and confirmed that Bass Pro's packaging was in it. Carter exited the bathroom and contacted Robert Keith (“Keith”), the team lead in charge that day. Carter told Keith a shoplifter was in the men's bathroom concealing and stealing Bass Pro merchandise. Keith and Carter confronted the shoplifter in the front of the store. While the parties heavily dispute the circumstances surrounding the confrontation, they both agree that ultimately, the shoplifter was chased out of the store, and Keith tackled the shoplifter once outside of the store. Melinda Roberts (“Roberts”), the General Manager of Bass Pro, told Keith and Carter to let the shoplifter go and instructed Carter, who was holding the shoplifter's glasses and jacket, which came off during the confrontation, to return the shoplifter's items and the stolen item to the shoplifter.

         After the shoplifter left, Carter, Keith, Roberts, Bridget Whitfield (“Whitfield”), Bass Pro Human Resources Manager, and Ben Gardner (“Gardner”), Bass Pro Operations Manager, went into Robert's office. The parties dispute the nature of the discussion in Robert's office; however, Carter and Keith did provide those in attendance at the meeting with details of the chain of events that took place. Bass Pro commenced an investigation, and Carter and Keith were suspended pending the completion of the investigation. While Carter disputes the fact that he never actually touched the shoplifter, the investigation confirmed that Carter and Keith were involved in a physical altercation with a customer, in violation of Bass Pro's policies and procedures.

         Bass Pro has the following policy related to shoplifting:

While the majority of our customers and vendors are honest, shoplifting still occurs on a regular basis. The best deterrent to shoplifting is outstanding customer service as the typical shoplifter desires to be left alone. If you suspect someone of stealing, call your Operations Support team immediately.

         Exhibit 2-6, Retail Hourly and P.A.C.E. Associate Handbook at 32, attached to Bass Pro's Mot. for Summ. J. In 2009, Carter attended a training regarding loss prevention procedures. See Exhibit 2-9, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World EAS Training Acknowledgement Form, attached to Bass Pro's Mot. for Summ. J. During the training, the following was explained to Bass Pro employees:

So, now that we've talked about how to spot a potential shoplifter, what do you do then? . . . Continue to provide world class customer service, but also notify Operations Support and the MOD [Manager on Duty] immediately upon identifying suspicious behavior. . . . Once the MOD or OS has taken control of the observation of the subject, you can go back to what you were doing and help other customers as usual. . . . It is also critical that you fulfill your role in this process of identifying the bad guys, then ensuring you stay clear of the circumstances.

         Exhibit 2-7, Operations Support New Hire Orientation Presentation Script at Bass Pro 000407, attached to Bass Pro's Mot. for Summ. J.

         While Carter believed he followed Bass Pro's policies and procedures when he notified Keith of the shoplifter, on January 20, 2016, at the conclusion of the investigation, Carter and Keith were terminated from Bass Pro. The remarks on Carter's Bass Pro Group Separation Notice stated:[2]

On [January 15, 2016], Sonny [Carter] was involved in an altercation with an alleged shoplifter; which is a violation of Bass Pro Standards of Conduct. Fighting, or engaging in conduct that endangers others associates is subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination. At Bass Pro, each associate is expected to conduct himself/herself in a manner that is orderly, safe and efficient. Any illegal, immoral, indecent, insubordinate, dangerous, or disorderly conduct on company property will absolutely not be tolerated. Therefore, the seriousness of the events on [January 12, 2016] [sic] we are separating the employment relationship immediately.

Exhibit 2-12, Bass Pro Group Separation Notice, attached to Bass Pro's Mot. for Summ. J. At the time of their termination, Carter was seventy-seven years (77) old ...

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