Posted Jan. 6, 2006 – The African-American executive who Wal-Mart falsely accused of using a forged company check to buy $13,600 in gift cards for employees at his firm said Friday that workers at the retail giant told him that race was behind the controversy.
Reginald Pitts, a human resources manager for GAF, the nation’s biggest manufacturer of roofing materials, said that two employees at Wal-Mart told him that several White managers had made similar transactions, hassle-free, that same day.
Pitts, who told BET.com that he was grabbed by sheriff’s deputies while in the Brandon, Fla., store after employees called police, wants to know for sure whether his race had anything to do with the misunderstanding. Earlier this month he hired an attorney, and he’s demanding store surveillance tapes from the Nov. 23, episode, the Wal-Mart incident report and interviews with the employees involved.
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Last month, Wal-Mart officials apologized to Pitts and said they launched an internal investigation into the matter.
“We've apologized to Mr. Pitts, and are trying to find out exactly what happened so it does not happen again," said Sharon Weber, a spokeswoman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain.” We do not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling at Wal-Mart.”
Four Wal-Mart officials, including a regional vice president of operations at corporate headquarters, have called Pitts to apologize. While he has yet to hear from anyone at the Florida store, Mark Cornett, the manager who called the police, has been fired.
Call Leads to Stall
Pitts said he called Wal-Mart early the day before Thanksgiving and spoke to someone ,he believed was a manager, to say he would be coming in that day to purchase 520 gift cards for his staff (GAF rewards its employees with gift cards for outstanding performance and for holidays.) Pitts said he made the call because he didn't want to wait in line. He was told the cards would be ready in 30 minutes.
Pitts said that in the past his company has sent a White woman to buy the gift cards with a company check and that she had no problems. But since he had given much of his staff the week of Thanksgiving off, he decided to pick them up himself.
When he got to the store, he gave a clerk the company check, his driver’s license, his business card and the phone numbers to GAF's bank. And his accounting supervisor assured customer service reps over the phone that the check was good, Pitts told BET.com.
"I became a little irritated, and in a professional manner, I requested the check back,” Pitts said, noting that he had been held up for two hours. “But a group of managers who were huddled in an office behind the customer-service desk refused to give it back to me."
He said he was then approached by two Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies. One grabbed Pitts by the arm, as if he was going to arrest him, Pitts said.
When he told the deputies that he didn’t appreciate the way he was being treated, “one deputy responded, ‘That's how we approach felons. Wal-Mart told us you committed a felony,’" Pitts said.
After giving the officers his business card and explaining who he was, they realized there were no grounds for a criminal charges, he said.
GAF, which has been spending about $50,000 a year on gift cards from the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Brandon, Fla., has also lodged a formal complaint against the retailer.
GAF has decided to buy its gift cards from Target from now on, Pitts said.
Should Wal-Mart have to hand over surveillance tapes, incident reports and witness testimonies to the attorneys of Reginald Pitts?
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