Thomas Smith, a formerly homeless ex-convict living in Albany, New York, was fired from his job collecting shopping carts at Walmart on Nov. 6 because he redeemed $5.10 worth of cans. His employer reportedly considered the act to be tantamount to theft.
The Albany Times Union reported on Smith’s plight, and readers were so outraged that they took action. One reader started a crowdfunding campaign for Smith, and another wrote a letter to the CEO of Walmart regarding the incident.
Smith, 52, openly admitted to cashing in the bottles and cans he found in the parking lot.
"I didn't know you couldn't take empties left behind," Smith told the Albany Times Union. "They were garbage. I didn't even get a chance to explain myself. They told me to turn in my badge.”
The manager asked Smith to repay the $5.10, but he didn’t have any money on him so he took an hour-long bus ride to Walmart two days after his manager confronted him in order to repay her.
"I did the right thing and stayed out of trouble," he said. "I worked hard and did a good job. I ended up getting a raw deal."
The ordeal also raised another question: Is Walmart treating all employees equally? While Smith's manager interrogated him, she allegedly revealed that a white cashier was caught on camera stealing $20 from the cash register and placing it in her bra. She had to give the money back but wasn’t fired because she has five children.
Now, the Center for Law and Justice in Albany is considering Smith’s case.
“It raised issues of race and gender,” Alice Green, a prisoner advocate for the Center for Law and Justice, said.
Smith is African-American.
"It made me angry because this defeats everything we've been working for over the past 30 years," she added.
The GoFundMe page that was set up for Smith has raised over $1,000 of its $5,000 goal as of this writing.