In 1989 A loss prevention worker at a convenience store in Massachusetts,
asked a female employee to leave her cash register and go into a back
room of the store. She was accused of stealing from the register and allowing
customers to leave without paying for some of their items.
The worker denied that she was involved with stealing items or allowing
any of the customers to steal any items. The loss prevention worker knew
she was in the middle of a divorce and this situation could cause her
the loss of custody of her son if she refused to confess. After more than
four hours of being interrogated, the employee signed a confession admitting
that she had stolen the money which was a felony. Based on the confession,
she was charged with larceny. She pled guilty, was placed on probation
and ordered to pay $5,500 in restitution to the store.
A year later, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a series of articles
revealing that thousands of other employees of this same store in many
states had been coerced to falsely confess to theft in circumstances very
similar to the 1989 worker’s case.
Two former employees said the company had a longstanding policy of coercing
confessions of theft from employees without corroborating evidence. The
two employees also appeared on an episode of the television program “60
Minutes” and said that they had a quota of as many as 30 confessions
per month, and that the interrogations were carried out at many of the
more than 1,000 company stores in several states.
An attorney was appointed to represent the 1989 worker. Based on the disclosures,
her attorney filed a motion to vacate her conviction. The motion was granted.
The store denied that her confession was false and she went to trial in
Massachusetts. In 1992, a jury acquitted Adams of larceny of more than
$250, but convicted her of larceny under $250, which was a misdemeanor.
After the trial, her attorney argued the verdict was not supported by
the evidence and the trial judge vacated the conviction and dismissed
the case. The prosecution appealed and in 1993, the Supreme Judicial Court
of Massachusetts upheld the dismissal.
The attorney for the 1989 employee then filed a lawsuit on behalf of her
and many other of the store’s employees who said they were similarly
coerced to confess falsely to theft and were fired. In 1993, the company
agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit involving
about 2,000 former employees.
This pursuit of justice did not end there however, and ultimately had a
tragic ending for the attorney of the 1989 employee who was terminated.
The attorney pursued the store with a separate lawsuit including 50 of
the former store workers. The courts punished him for contempt for disobeying
the judicial orders, and he was fined tens of thousands of dollars, jailed
for months, lost his house and life savings, and eventually saw his law
license suspended as well. Eventually even his marriage failed as a result
of this quest for justice.
Eventually the attorney and a few other of his clients got money from the
company he sued. The 1989 fired worker got $5,000 that she gave to her
attorney for her appreciation of his hard work and dedication.