During six years with Tom Thumb, Shaun Garcia says he worked hard, rose up the ranks and earned a reputation as someone who could turn struggling, theft-plagued stores around. He started as a stocker at the Lewisville store then quickly earned a series of promotions, first to assistant night manager, then to full night manager, then as grocery director of stores of increasing size.
He finally landed at the Tom Thumb at Forest and Marsh lanes in Northwest Dallas, which is where he was on the morning of November 17, 2011, the day a couple of vice presidents from Tom Thumb's parent company, Randall's Food & Drug, were scheduled to inspect the store. This was also the day that Garcia's work life would turn to shit, according to a lawsuit he filed against Tom Thumb yesterday in federal court.
It was about 7:20 a.m. and Garcia was helping make last-minute preparations for the visit when, as he descended a flight of cluttered, greasy stairs in a back room, he slipped and fell. He put his right arm out instinctively to break his fall.
What actually broke was his hand. A doctor would later determine that it had fractured in several places and would need surgery to repair, but he didn't know all that at the time. All he knew was that his hand was swollen and that he was in agonizing pain. Garcia showed the hand to his boss, a man named Rock Pollard, who, according to the lawsuit, said that "the store would get 'walked' in just a few hours and it could be a while before he could send Garcia to get medical attention."
The hours ticked away. The corporate bigwigs came and went. Garcia was ordered to fill the spice rack. At 11:30 a.m., Pollard called him to the store office to fill out paperwork. Finally at noon, nearly five hours after the injury, he was sent across the street to PrimaCare.
Despite a physician's orders to the contrary, Garcia says he was required to finish out his shift and was forced to work his normal, 10-plus hour shifts over the week until he saw a hand specialist and underwent surgery. He took one week off under the Family Medical Leave Act and returned with a doctor's note limiting him to light duty. This Pollard ignored and scheduled him for his normal shifts and duties. The manager's response, according to the lawsuit: "If you can stand, you can work."
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This allegedly went on for several months while Garcia underwent two additional surgeries, then a lengthy stint in physical therapy. His formerly amicable relationship with Pollard soured as his hand, due largely to the strenuous work he was doing, failed to heal properly. Garcia was fired in August.
Tom Thumb spokeswoman Connie Yates has not yet returned a call seeking comment. Based on the information contained in Garcia's suit, it seems the grocer fired him over suspicions that he stole a cell phone that had been charging in the store's cash office.
Garcia recounts the firing this way: He was called into Pollard's office twice in August and interrogated about the stolen phone. He explained he had been in the office to charge his own phone, common practice among the store's employees. During the second meeting, at which a loss prevention officer was present, he says he was accused of lying. At this, he refused to answer additional questions without an attorney present. He was immediately suspended, then, four days later, he was fired.
Garcia pins his termination on his medical issues and claims that the decision violated the FMLA. Tom Thumb doubtless will tell a different story, if they decide to share it. But it's fairly safe, from the facts established, to draw two conclusions: Working at a grocery store sucks. And so does breaking your hand.