Clubbed Into Submission

Marty: Is there any reason why we would see you take videos out of the video department and walk out the door with them?

Nancy: No.

Marty: Do you know why anyone would say that you did?

Nancy: No.

SAFEWAY CHECKER Nancy Lattin says that conversation with one of her bosses still rings in her ears. But then, how could she forget being suspended for a theft she says she didn't commit? Or that the alleged evidence includes downloaded data from her Safeway Club Card?

Safeway, like other grocers who record every purchase on a customer's discount card, has always claimed the computerized info is used mainly to track sales trends. But in Lattin's case, her innocuous shopping record was used to accuse her of a crime, she says.

Lattin, 37, single, a Safeway employee for 14 years, was called into the Crown Hill Safeway office Sept. 6. Seated before her was Jeff, the store manager, and Marty, a Safeway corporate-security official. Here's how she remembers that fateful day:

Marty: Is anyone you know stealing from the company? Anything you say is in complete confidence.

Nancy: I don't know anyone stealing.

Marty: Don't get the wrong idea about me taking notes. So do you ever rent movies here?

Nancy: Sometimes, not very often.

Marty: So how do you rent movies?

Nancy: Well, since I get off after the department closes, I scan them out to myself with another employee watching, and pay for them with my other shopping when I leave.

Marty: Do you use your Club Card for your purchases?

Nancy: Yes.

Marty: Can I see your Club Card?

[Nancy gives him the card.]

Marty: Can you step out of the room for a minute?

[Nancy leaves, returns; Marty shows her a printout of four recent video rentals and has a copy of a receipt.]

Marty: There is no charge of $10 on here for the videos.

Nancy: Sometimes I use my parents' number if I don't have my card on me. Or my old employee card, but it has my ex-husband's name on it.

Marty: So you don't use your Club Card on every purchase?

Nancy: Videos are never on sale with the Club Card, so why bother?

Marty: Will you write a statement of how you rent videos?

Nancy: Sure. [She does.]

Marty: Are you sure you don't want to add anything?

Nancy: No, I don't.

Marty: Well, Nancy, we are going to suspend you. I am having a hard time believing you, and we can't verify your purchase with the card. If you talk to anyone besides your union rep, you will be immediately terminated.

WITH THAT, LATTIN—who, she says, was rewarded this year with $500 in Safeway stock and the corporation's presidential award for customer satisfaction—cleaned out her locker and left. At least six other Crown Hill employees also were investigated recently for theft, she adds, and one had to pay Safeway $188 to cover investigative costs.

She suspects she was targeted because she occasionally took home empty DVD cases for disc storage. And she says she found a $12 charge on her receipt that may indeed be the video rentals.

But then a store official called her and accused her of another theft—of a picnic table. She says she indeed hauled one away—to a customer's home. He couldn't fit it in his car. "We do stuff like that all the time, take people and their groceries home, jump-start their cars, and so on," Lattin explains.

Jeff, the store manager, wouldn't comment. After several days of mulling over my questions, Safeway corporate spokesperson Cherie Myers said, "We can't give out any information regarding our employees."

But the corporation apparently did give out some information on Lattin to her union, telling officials that she talked with me. That may have finished her for good.

"The store has called me in for another meeting because I talked with the press," says Lattin. She says the other charges aren't true, "but I guess they can fire me for exercising my freedom of speech. My union says there's nothing I can do."

So Lattin is looking for work. As for Big Brother watching over her shopping habits, she says, "I'm still feeling slightly paranoid." Welcome to the club.

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