Target is facing a lawsuit filed by a mother who says her son committed suicide after he was forced to take part in a humiliating disciplinary event in front of co-workers and customers.
The suit claims 22-year-old Graham A. Gentles, a former cashier at the retail chain's Pasadena store, was humiliated when he was subjected to what the family's attorney called a "walk of shame," a ritual during which the employee is paraded around the store in handcuffs.
"I don't want any other mother to have to go through what I've gone through," said Graham's mother Virginia Gentles, who filed the lawsuit. "This is my only child."
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Virginia Gentles filed the suit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging false imprisonment, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Her son jumped to his death from the roof of the Courtyard Marriott in Monrovia on July 18, three days after he was fired and required by the Target store and allegedly forced to the "walk of shame."
"The only thing he said to me at that moment was, 'Mom this is the worst day of my life,'" Virginia Gentles said.
Target released a statement Friday expressing sympathy for the family.
"Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the friends and family of this individual,'' Target spokesman Evan Lapiska said. "As this is pending litigation, we don't have further comment at this time.''
According to the complaint, police and store security met Graham Gentles immediately as he arrived for work. At the direction of two members of the store management, he was handcuffed and led before other store employees to an office, the suit states.
"Mr. Gentles was shocked, confused and mortified at being handcuffed and walked through the Target store in front of co-workers and customers,'' the suit states. "Mr. Gentles had no idea why he was being arrested.''
He was questioned in the office, then later taken to the police station, the suit states.
"While he was cuffed he was paraded through the store into a room and was interrogated there," attorney Patrick McNicholas said. "He was then paraded back out to the store, put into a patrol car and taken to Pasadena police station."
However, he was later released and never charged with any crime, according to the complaint.
The suit alleges the actions by the two Target managers were part of a company practice that other employees had also experienced.
"The walk of shame is a Target policy to purposely cause shame, embarrassment and emotional distress to any Target employee who is suspected of stealing from Target,'' the suit states. "The policy consists of employees being arrested and paraded in handcuffs through the Target store in full view of co-workers and customers.''
Target told NBC4 on Friday it did not have a "walk of shame" policy but could not comment any further.
However, the suit alleges that Graham Gentles' involvement in a "verbal altercation'' with another Target worker at a bar outside of work hours several months before the handcuffing incident may have prompted management to subject him to the "walk of shame,'' the suit states.
Her attorney claims the experience was intensified by the fact Graham had Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism.
"The nature of Aspergers he tended to hyper focus and so he was very hyper focused on this," McNicholas said. "He was hyper focused on his loss and it was a perfect storm which resulted in his death."
Graham Gentles was a loyal employee who always arrived early to his job, the suit states.
The suit alleges that Graham Gentles' suicide was directly related to his treatment by Target management.