Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Wikimedia Commons, not the Ralphs location from the story. 

A former Ralphs Grocery Co. employee testified Tuesday that a cashier’s error caused him to be falsely accused of stealing six bottles of lemonade and be fired after nearly three decades of employment with the supermarket chain.

Troy Williams told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that he presented one bottle of Simply Lemonade to the cashier at the Torrance store and told her he had two cases, or a total of 12 bottles, when the transaction occurred on Nov. 12, 2012.

He said he did not know until he was called into the office 10 days later and told he was being suspended that she had only charged him for six bottles. He said he was later fired from his job as a receiving clerk after 27 years with the company.

Williams sued Ralphs and three former co-workers in November 2012. Less than two years later, a judge dismissed most of his claims, including those for discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation.

The jury is hearing his remaining allegations of harassment, failure to prevent harassment and defamation.

Williams, who is black, maintains that for about 18 months before his firing, one of his former supervisors, who is Asian, made racially tinged statements about his clothing and the music he favored. He also alleges the supervisor and the other two employee defendants defamed him after he lost his job by telling others that he stole the lemonade.

“It was devastating to hear something like that,” Williams said. “I was probably the top or the second best receiver in the district. It’s terrible to be labeled a thief.”

Attorneys for Ralphs maintain Williams, 49, of Carson was fired for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. They say the lemonade was concealed with flattened cardboard laid across the top of the basket.

But Williams, narrating as his attorneys showed a video of his entire transaction to the jury, said he placed the cardboard where he did because there was not enough room to place it sideways in the basket. He maintains he took the cardboard so that he could place it under a car at home that leaked oil.

Williams said that on the day he was called into the office and confronted by a loss-prevention employee, he could not remember how much he paid or how many bottles he purchased. He said he knew there were video cameras in the store and asked to see his transaction, but was denied a chance to do so as well as the opportunity to talk to a union representative.

Williams said he was told to write a statement about what happened at the checkstand that day, a copy of which was shown to the jury. Williams had scrawled across the top of the statement, “No representation present.”

Williams testified he held a second job with the Los Angeles Unified School District while working at Ralphs and that he continues to work there. He said he tried without success to get other jobs to replace the income he lost from Ralphs, but potential employers were turned off by his honest statements in his applications that he had previously been fired upon being accused of stealing.

Williams said he eventually obtained a contractor’s license and formed a company with a partner to paint residential and commercial buildings. But he said the income still is not on a par with the money he made at Ralphs.

Williams said Ralphs eventually offered him his job back at the same position with the same pay, but he turned it down because he did not want to return to a location with a “label on my head” of being a thief.

“I didn’t want the embarrassment or humiliation,” Williams said.

–City News Service 

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