Plaintiff Lamon Griggs charged Wal-Mart with defamation, asserting that store personnel had falsely accused him of theft and spread those allegations, according to the National Law Journal.
After he was fired by Wal-Mart, Griggs was unable to find another trucking job and is now working part time with the Chickasaw County sheriff’s department in Mississippi, according to the report. He had been making $70,000 a year at Wal-Mart.
Griggs was working as a truck driver for Wal-Mart in Hammond, Louisiana in 1997 when, having made his delivery picked up some chewing tobacco to purchase. He then remembered that he had to check in with his supervisor. Still carrying the package, as he left the store looking for a phone, he informed the “greeter” at the door that he had the tobacco but had to step out. However, before he could reenter the store, Griggs claimed the store’s “loss prevention” staff stopped him.
Griggs gave a written statement to his supervisor that he had never intended to take the tobacco. Still, Griggs was fired in accordance with Wal-Mart’s policy on dismissing employees caught taking merchandise from the store.
Subsequently, Griggs coworker drivers “revolted”, according to Griggs’ attorney. The National Law Journal report then notes that the Wal-Mart supervisor, “in order to put down the rebellion, claimed Lamon was an habitual thief.” The supervisor told the plaintiff’s co-workers that “Wal-Mart had a videotape of Lamon stealing and that they suspected him of other thefts,” according to Griggs’ attorney.
Ultimately, it turned out there was no videotape and no other allegations or suspicions of wrongdoing.
Wal-Mart denied spreading false accusations and contended that Griggs had admitted the theft in his statement to the supervisor immediately following the incident. Griggs claimed that he had said he was sorry about the policy, not that he had stolen the tobacco.
The jury awarded Griggs $1.5 million in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages. Prior to trial, the defense had offered $30,000 to settle.
Griggs also claimed wrongful termination, but that count was dismissed before verdict, as Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Andrew Howarth found that state law precluded such a claim because Griggs was an at-will employee.
Wal-Mart will file post-trial motions to set aside or reverse the verdict. If these fail, an appeal is expected.
The case is Griggs v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. H 98-145 (Chickasaw Co., Miss., Cir. Ct.).