Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Does Walgreen's Theft Of Employee Wages Vastly Exceed Its Losses To Shoplifting?

popular |  In the United States, only certain types of theft are newsworthy. 

For example, on June 14, 2021, a reporter for KGO-TV in San Francisco tweeted a cellphone video of a man in Walgreens filling a garbage bag with stolen items and riding his bicycle out of the store. According to San Francisco's crime database, the value of the merchandise stolen in the incident was between $200 and $950. 

According to an analysis by FAIR, a media watchdog, this single incident generated 309 stories between June 14 and July 12. A search by Popular Information reveals that, since July 12, there have been dozens of additional stories mentioning the incident. The theft has been covered in a slew of major publications including the New York Times, USA Today and CNN.

In most coverage, the video is presented as proof that there are no consequences for shoplifting in San Francisco. But the man in the video, Jean Lugo-Romero, was arrested about a week later and faces 15 charges, including "grand theft, second-degree burglary and shoplifting." He was recently transferred to county jail where he is being held without bond. 

Just a few months earlier, in November 2020, Walgreens paid a $4.5 million settlement to resolve a class-action lawsuit alleging that it stole wages from thousands of its employees in California between 2010 and 2017. The lawsuit alleged that Walgreens "rounded down employees' hours on their timecards, required employees to pass through security checks before and after their shift without compensating them for time worked, and failed to pay premium wages to employees who were denied legally required meal breaks." 

Walgreens' settlement includes attorney's fees and other penalties, but $2,830,000 went to Walgreens employees to compensate them for the wages that the company had stolen. And, because it is a settlement, that amount represents a small fraction of the total liability. According to the order approving the settlement, it represents "approximately 22% of the potential damages."

So this is a story of a corporation that stole millions of dollars from its own employees. How much news coverage did it generate? There was a single 221-word story in Bloomberg Law, an industry publication. And that's it. There has been no coverage in the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, or the dozens of other publications that covered the story of a man stealing a few hundred dollars of merchandise.