The $33 Termination

An eight-year Goodwill employee thinks she was forced out because of medical problems

Finders, keepers may have been a common practice of Goodwill Industries of Southern Arizona employees when they discovered cash at work--yet it might have cost Dianna Larimore her job. Instead, she thinks she was fired for medical reasons, not because of $33.

Having worked as a clerk for Goodwill for almost eight years, a few months ago, the 59-year old Larimore took a nasty spill at the company's store near Broadway Boulevard and Sarnoff Drive. Landing on the concrete floor, she hurt her back and vividly recalls: "My whole body shook, including my teeth. I (stayed) there for five minutes to let my body stop quivering." She saw a doctor and had X-rays taken, then was put on light duty at work.

After Larimore returned to her job in September, one of her co-workers while sorting donations found $100 in an otherwise empty wallet. Larimore says the long-standing practice among Goodwill employees is to split found money, an assertion confirmed by several other employees.

"Before, we had shared and pocketed the money," she says. "We've always done it, and everybody does it. I didn't realize we had to turn it in. If they fired everybody who finds money and keeps it, they would have to fire everybody."

Based on that common practice, even though the employee who discovered the money initially wanted to turn it in to their supervisor, she quickly changed her mind. Instead, the money was split between the three workers then in the store.

That decision violates company policy, according to Goodwill's human resources director, Stephanie Smith. She says money found while sorting donations is to be turned over to the employee's supervisor. "It's (considered) a donation to Goodwill," Smith declares.

Smith also states the policy is reviewed regularly with employees, including in a meeting attended by Larimore just one week before the $100 was found. Larimore vehemently challenges that view, stressing the meeting only concerned sexual-harassment issues.

The day after the funds were found, Larimore remembers her supervisor asked about the money and was informed it was shared among the three employees. "If I thought I was going to get canned over $33, I would have kept quiet," Larimore insists. Instead, she recalls the supervisor "told us to forget it, but the next time to turn it in."

Smith disputes that claim, saying the supervisor denies making such a statement. Larimore, however, counters that the third employee in the store at the time the money was found was told the same thing.

That employee, Eric Herrera, confirms Larimore's version of events. He also states that everyone who works for Goodwill keeps found money.

A week after the cash was discovered, Larimore says the employee who found it was asked by the supervisor to return the $33, which she did. But Larimore and Herrera were not given the same opportunity.

About seven days later, Herrera was fired and believes it was because of complaints he made about unresolved building-maintenance issues. He told Larimore what happened to him; to try and head off her own termination, Larimore deposited $33 into a Goodwill bank account. Despite that, Smith fired her, saying later she didn't know if the money had been repaid or not.

While refusing to discuss why the employee who found the money wasn't also fired, Smith does say: "We did follow our disciplinary procedures."

Even though it is apparently company policy to instantly terminate an employee for theft, when asked why it took two weeks before Larimore and her co-worker were fired, Smith asserts: "Typically, we take action as soon as we can. We didn't know about the found money until shortly before we took action, but did take it immediately once (we were notified)."

Larimore believes the found money was just used as an easy excuse to get rid of her. "The $33 wasn't the issue," she says. "I was set up because of my back. They think that since I got hurt, they should get rid of me so they don't have to pay through the nose in case I get hurt again."

Dismissing that charge, Smith says: "For theft, we always terminate. It's been a policy since before I came here 10 years ago."

That may be Goodwill's stated guideline, but keeping found money seems to be standard operating procedure among company employees. Even though Smith disputes that conclusion, one reason given for the practice is that store clerks are paid wages of $7 an hour or less, and haven't received a raise in several years.

Regardless, Larimore is out work. She is looking for another job, but expects it will be difficult to find one. "Employers don't want to hire someone who will soon be 60," she observes.

While looking for a new job, Larimore is seeking unemployment compensation. She has some personal experience with Goodwill's sometimes-tough approach to handling these claims. Last year, her husband not only lost his job with the company because they got married, but Goodwill also fought him over unemployment payments, as they are doing with her. (See "'Til Work Do Us Part," July 22, 2004).

Summarizing her experience, Larimore again emphasizes she didn't know splitting the money up was against the rules. If she had, she insists: "I wouldn't give up an 8-year job for $33."

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