Even shoplifters have rights, and when push comes to shove, shoplifters will push to have their rights recognized in court.
Some of the country’s biggest retailers, from Walmart to Bloomingdale’s to Abercrombie & Fitch, are being accused of extorting shoppers caught swiping merchandise and are facing those accusations in court thanks to a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in San Jose.
The story starts with a birthday BBQ trip, where a mother shopping with her son was accused of swiping hot dog buns and a water bottle. That woman was then given a choice — paying for a $500 online class and admitting to the crime of shoplifting, or the store could call the cops.
Corrective Education Company (CEC), the firm that offers up the class, says the situation is a win for everyone: The shoplifter avoids a criminal record and learns that crime has costs. The retailer gets justice. The cops save time.
But the lawsuit against Corrective Education officials and their retail clients called it an extortion racket that would do the Mafia proud.
“Despite their glittering credentials,” the complaint states, the program’s producers “are all participants in a long-running, highly profitable extortion scheme that has extracted millions of dollars from thousands of poor, desperate people across the country.”
Scott Gant, a lawyer representing CEC officials, said the theory of the crime — predicated on an anti-racketeering law — is “a novel but incorrect legal theory.”
“This simply isn’t extortion,” Gant said. “The program is voluntary. People don’t have to participate when they sign up. They’re given an opportunity to change their minds. And they get benefits for participating — they get the actual service of the education program.”
The lawsuit claims the company had initially paid some retailers up to $40 per person enrolled in the class.
Walmart was not paid and said it has since dropped the controversial program. Spokesperson Ragan Dickens said the retailer did nothing wrong.
“We began evaluating this program last year and ultimately suspended it last December,” Dickens said. “We deny the allegations made against us and plan to defend ourselves.”
Other retailers named in the complaint have offered no comment, and a court date has not been set.