It isn't easy working in retail on Black Friday, the notorious shopping day following Thanksgiving. Big-box retailers offer their top discounts, and shoppers respond with mad rushes through the check-out line.
So Jan Sullivan, who stands 4 feet 11 inches and is 73, was hardly in an enviable situation last November when her employer of 22 years, Walmart Stores Inc., assigned her the task of stopping customers from leaving through the exit door at a branch in Bay Pines, Fla.
Sullivan, who normally worked as a Walmart greeter, says she tried to stop one customer from taking the wrong exit, when she was pushed. She then says she lost lost her balance, and grabbed onto the customer's sweater. The customer proceeded to leave the store, and Sullivan thought that was the end of it.
But three days later, Sullivan was fired, according to the Tampa Bay Times. And now, she finds herself in dire straits. She's burned through her savings, and owes $3,000 on her Discover card. "I'm 73 years old," she says. "Who's going to hire me?"
It's been a dramatic fall for the Walmart employee who once proudly wore a vest with the words stitched on it, "20 Years of Dedicated Service." She's twice divorced with no kids after both her fallopian tubes burst during two failed pregnancies. A nephew makes sporadic visits.
Her story has touched a chord with her neighbors in her community, in which she just sold her two-bedroom cinderblock home. (She's moving to a nearby mobile home, which cost her $3,000.) One neighbor, Jeff Wetherbee, was so moved about what happened to "the little old lady across the street who makes peanut brittle for the neighborhood every Christmas" he contacted the media on her behalf.
For its part, Walmart says it was forced into action by its rule forbidding employees to touch customers under any circumstances.
"Regardless of her intentions, her actions put her own safety and possibly the safety of a customer in jeopardy," Walmart spokeswoman Kayla Whaling told the Tampa Bay Times. "We can't condone behavior where associates take matters into their own hands."
The company wouldn't comment further on the case's details. But the experience of workers finding themselves overwhelmed on Black Friday is not limited to Sullivan, or Walmart. A 36-year old female worker of Target, also in Florida, was so exhausted last November she lost control of her car and drove it into a canal, according to Florida Police, which didn't name her. She was able, however, to swim to safety, according to the Miami New Times. Back in 2008, a worker died at a New York Walmart after being trampled in a Black Friday stampede.
Sullivan, meanwhile, hasn't totally given up on her own job search, and sends in dozens of applications to sporting goods stores her area. And while she says obviously misses the paycheck, she's also grown nostalgic about the camaraderie at work. She says, for example, she'd like one more chance to cook chicken for the company's All Children's Hospital Fundraiser.
"Walmart was like my home," she says. "Like my family."
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