Former employee says racism existed at Walmart

By Kyla Asbury | Dec 12, 2013

CHARLESTON - A man is suing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. after he claims he was harassed based on his race and sex.

Michael Paul Higginbotham, Wal-Mart Stores East Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores East LP were also named as defendants in the suit.

On June 18, 2010, Gregory Robinson was hired by Walmart and worked as a sales clerk in the electronics department, according to a complaint filed Nov. 26 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Robinson, who is African American, claims that he met and became friends with Jirald Davis, who is also African American.

Not long after Robinson began his employment, Higginbotham was hired as the asset protection manager and he and other Walmart store managers and department managers began a program, whether formal or informal, of "intense scrutiny, suspicion and surveillance of Walmart's African American male employees," according to the suit.

Robinson claims it was not based on cause or reasonable suspicion or any good-faith belief that he or Davis were any more likely to be engaged in the theft of merchandise than non-African American male employees.

The general manager, George Skinner, engaged in a pattern of harassing and humiliating Robinson and Davis beginning in 2001 and the first half of 2012, according to the suit.

Robinson claims Skinner made frequent remarks and innuendos stating and suggesting that he and Davis were involved romantically because they associated together, took breaks together and took lunch together.

In July 2012, Higginbotham discovered Jeremy Hartwell, a Walmart sales associate who worked in the electronics department with Robinson and Davis, stealing Apple iPods on the store's surveillance cameras, he says. Although the surveillance video clearly showed only Hartwell taking the iPods, Higginbotham reported and informed South Charleston Police Department Officer S.W. Miller that Davis and Robinson were involved and complicit in the theft, according to the suit.

Robinson claims he was on vacation from July 13, 2012, until July 27, 2012, and while he was on vacation, Hartwell and Davis were arrested and charged with felony embezzlement and fraudulent schemes. Robinson was later arrested on July 29, 2012, after he returned from vacation, the suit says.

Neither Miller nor Higginbotham appeared at the preliminary hearing on Aug. 8, 2012, and the charges against Robinson and Davis were dismissed, according to the suit.

Robinson claims he informed Walmart that the charges were dismissed and went to speak with an assistant manager to find out when his employment would be reinstated, but after more than one month he had not heard from Walmart and initiated proceedings against it with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.

On Nov. 27, 2012, Robinson was arrested for a second time on the same felony embezzlement and fraudulent concealment charges and at the hearing, Magistrate Judge Peter Lopez found that probable cause did not exist, according to the suit.

Robinson claims the defendants harassed him on the basis of his race and sex.

Robinson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages with pre-judgment interest. He is being represented by W. Stuart Calwell Jr., Alex McLaughlin and Benjamin D. Adams of the Calwell Practice LC.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge James C. Stucky.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 13-C-2218

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