Judge says $3 'theft' grounds for termination

CLARKSBURG – A Monongalia County woman has been awarded more than $2,000 in compensation after a judge found her former employer was late in paying her last paycheck.

U.S. District Judge Irene M. Keeley on Jan. 4 gave a partial victory to Debra Eddy in her wrongful discharge suit against her former employer, Dollar General Corp. In her 51-page opinion, Keeley wrote that while Eddy failed to make a convincing case on most her claims against the Goodlattsville, Tenn.-based discount retailer, including wrongful discharge, age discrimination, defamation, she successfully proved it failed to timely pay her after it terminated her employment nearly 18 months ago.

According to her complaint originally filed in Monongalia Circuit Court on July 29, 2011, Eddy was the store manger of the Blacksville location when it opened in August 2005. After injuring her wrist and back while at work on May 18, 2011, Eddy says she was instructed by her doctor to take the next week off from work.

Following her examination, Eddy says she went to the store to purchase a few items including a heating pad. Because the credit card machine was down and she did not have cash, Eddy says Lisa Barr, a cashier, gave her permission to take the items and pay for them later.

According to her suit, Eddy returned the next day to inform Barr she would be off work until May 23 while undergoing physical therapy. Barr said she could not cover for her that long as she “ had things to do.”

Three days later, Eddy says she returned to pay for the heating pad and other items. When she resumed work the next day, Scott Biddle, the district manager, fired her for stealing.

According to the suit, Biddle failed to appear for an unemployment compensation hearing, and the company refused to answer a subpoena for videotape showing Barr giving Eddy permission to take items. Also, she alleged she did not receive her final paycheck until June 3 and annual bonus until June 10.

In her ruling, Keeley found that despite the fact the items she took were valued at no more than $3 and the credit card machine that day was malfunctioning, Eddy violated company policy of taking merchandise without first paying for it. Because she committed employee theft, Dollar General had sufficient grounds to fire hire.

However, Keeley found Dollar General violated the state Wage Payment and Collection Act by not paying her within 72 hours after Biddle discharged her on May 27. Dollar General argued her employment was terminated on June 8, the day its Employee Response Center completed its investigation into her discrimination complaint.

In her order dismissing the case a week later, Keeley ordered Dollar General to pay triple the amount of Eddy’s final wages, which amounted to $2,050.

In the suit, Eddy was represented by Morgantown attorney Edward R. Kouhout, and Dollar General by Allison N. Suflas with the Philadelphia law firm of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius and Amy M. Smith and Larry J. Rector with Steptoe and Johnson.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, case number 11-cv-137

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