PINEVILLE, N.C. — Staples said in a statement Monday that it has fired the manager who assumed an expecting mother had shoplifted at one of its stores in North Carolina.
Shirell Bates told WSOC-TV that she now regrets leaving her home on Friday for back-to-school shopping at the Pineville store.
"Being pregnant is already high-risk, and having to deal with that, just additional stress that I don't need," Bates said.
Bates said she learned that the manager was fired on social media.
Bates said a police officer asked her if she was shoplifting while she was checking out of the store.
"Mid-transaction, a police officer approached me and insisted he wanted to speak with me,” Bates said. “He asked what was under my shirt.”
Bates is pregnant with twins.
"Initially, I thought he was joking, so my response was, 'Twins,’” Bates said. “I'm 34 weeks with twins. I'm having a boy and a girl."
Bates said the officer didn’t believe her the first time, and he asked her again.
"At that point, to avoid him asking me again, I actually lifted my shirt just a little bit, just to expose my belly, so he could see that I'm just a regular pregnant person buying school supplies,” Bates said.
Pineville police said a Staples manager approached the officer and asked him to speak with Bates because the manager believed Bates may have been “concealing merchandise.”
"When I confronted her about what happened, she admitted that, 'In the past, we've had a lot of people putting school supplies or merchandise in their clothes and hiding, so I asked the officer to reach out to you,’” Bates said.
Staples issued the following statement:
“On Friday at our Pineville location a Staples’ manager mistakenly assumed a customer was shoplifting and reported this assumption to a police officer visiting the store. The police officer questioned the customer and quickly confirmed there was no theft. Based on the outcome, Staples’ issued a full refund to the customer.
Staples has since conducted a full investigation into the matter, and determined that the manager in question did not follow correct protocol and also failed to adhere to our existing policy on how to interact with our customers. As a result of this finding, the manager has been terminated and Staples has apologized to the customer. At Staples, we want all customers to feel welcome in our stores, and work with our associates to foster an inclusive culture. As an organization, we would like to apologize to the customer as that was not the case in this instance.”
Bates said she planned to contact Staples' corporate office and possibly seek legal action.
"You pretty much jumped the gun without any type of evidence, except my stomach is large,” Bates said. “That’s not fair. No mom should have to go through that."
Staples said Monday that the manager did not follow the correct protocol and did not adhere to the company's policy on interacting with customers.
The company said it has since apologized to Bates.
Bates said she would like Staples to provide sensitivity training for all employees.
She also hopes Staples improves its communication with customers who submit formal complaints.