Ethics Dunce: Safeway…Ethics Hero: Ryan Young. Justice? Waiting…

“You’re suspended, Kent.”

I’ve asked many times on Ethics Alarms why so many Americans stand by, inert and passive, when a fellow citizen is in peril.  Maybe the stunning ethics blindness exhibited by Safeway in a recent incident is part of the answer.

Ryan Young, who works in the meat department of a Safeway grocery store in Del Rey Oaks, California, was on the job when he witnessed a man beating a pregnant woman, apparently his girlfriend. Young told the man to stop, but he continued with his assault, shoving and kicking the her.  Young jumped over his counter, pushed him away, and ended the attack.

His reward was to be suspended without pay. Safeway has a policy that directs employees to summon security personnel and not to personally intervene when they see a crime or fight in progress. Even though police confirm that Young may have saved the woman and her unborn child from serious injury, the company is insisting that Young’s conduct warranted discipline, not praise.

Safeway is wrong. Its policy is sensible, and protects the store from lawsuits while discouraging employees from playing hero when they don’t have the experience or ability to do so, endangering themselves or third parties, and making a bad situation worse. Nonetheless, all employees, like all human beings, need to be prepared to act independently when policies don’t make sense, and when someone is in obvious and immediate danger. A pregnant women being beaten and kicked doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for responders, for every second endangers her health and the life of her child.  A witness in a position to stop the attack should do so, if he believes that he can. It is responsible and courageous, and the last thing he should bethinking about is a store policy that doesn’t apply to the current emergency.

Praising Young and rewarding him for representing Safeway nobly and well would not require that Safeway reject its policy, only that the company acknowledge that there are exceptions to every rule, and Young properly identified the parking lot incident as one of them. Suspending him, however, appears as insensitive as it is stupid, and stands as an apparent rejection of initiative, heroism, and the value of life over legal risks. That is how much of the public is seeing it too, with an online petition calling for Young’s reinstatement obtaining over 171,000 signatures, and a flood of criticism being directed at Safeway via Twitter and the company’s Facebook page.

The culture is correct to see Young as the hero here and Safeway as a villain, encouraging anti-social values over altruistic ones. This is corporate group-think at its worst, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that the company will eventually have to reverse itself, because heroes aren’t supposed to be punished for saving pregnant women. To the contrary, executives are supposed to be fired for making it look like their company doesn’t care about pregnant women.

UPDATE: As we all expected, Safeway reinstated Ryan after “conversations” with union reps, and gave him back pay. For good measure, the company also released an embarrassingly idiotic statement, saying, “As we have said from the outset, Mr. Young’s decision to intervene on behalf of one of our customers was commendable Whatever the circumstances, a physical confrontation between an employee and a customer is something we must take very seriously and examine very carefully. We appreciate the customers who took time to share their opinions about this incident, and we appreciate their patience as we completed the process.”

Suuure, Safeway, we buy that. So let’s see: Safeway’s reaction to commendable performance by employees is to suspend them? Is that what we are to glean from this? No? You suspend commendable employees before you examine what they did “very carefully?” Is that more accurate?

Wait! Wait! Safeway! Someone dropped out the “We’re so sorry!” line out of your release! Where should we put it?


Facts: Business Insider

Source: Examiner

Graphic: Allison’s World

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at


Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Heroes, The Internet, U.S. Society, Workplace

26 responses to “Ethics Dunce: Safeway…Ethics Hero: Ryan Young. Justice? Waiting…

  1. To Safeway everything seems to be black and white with no gray areas in their policies. I saw this story in the news,too. I hope lot’s of people are backing up this young man.

  2. Pingback: Ethics Dunce: Safeway…Ethics Hero: Ryan Young. Justice? Waiting … « Ethics Find

  3. Pingback: Ethics Dunce: Safeway…Ethics Hero: Ryan Young. Justice? Waiting … « Ethics Find

  4. Safeway is a California company and, unfortunately, reflects the mentality prevalent there.

  5. Lianne Best

    This isn’t just Safeway. I remember working for Ritz camera in the ’90s, a DC employee stopped a theft by throwing something at the running thief and taking him down. That employee was fired back then, for the same reason: not just letting the bad guy go. Lawsuits for injuries sustained while fighting crime in the workplace far outweigh the cost of lost inventory. I disagreed with the policy then, and I disagree with it now. I like to think someone will help me in a moment of need, even if it goes against company policy.

    • That’s different though. I agree with firing clerks that attempt to stop robberies, because it is dangerous to bystanders. One of the first Ethics Alarms posts (that I can’t seem to find) involved a bank firing a teller who foiled a robbery by tackling the thief. Those policies make sense as applied. But nobody was placed in danger in this case but the woman, her child and the Safeway employee, who put his own safety at risk for good cause.

      • That’s different though. I agree with firing clerks that attempt to stop robberies, because it is dangerous to bystanders. One of the first Ethics Alarms posts (that I can’t seem to find) involved a bank firing a teller who foiled a robbery by tackling the thief. Those policies make sense as applied. But nobody was placed in danger in this case but the woman, her child and the Safeway employee, who put his own safety at risk for good cause.

        True, there is a difference between pursuing a fleeing criminal and defending someone against an attacking criminal.

        Consider the Rayon McIntosh case. That was a case of two women actually jumping over the counter, putting McIntosh, a McDonald’s employee, in reasonable fear of harm. He actually showed restraint in dealing with those women. Had he done those same actions to a fleeing thief, firing him would have been justified.

  6. Minor corrections: Del Rey Oaks, CA, not Dallas. And from what I can tell, it happened in the store, not the parking lot.

    I beat you to this one. Needless to say, we agree.

    • Sorry, Screwed up the link. That’ll take you to the page, but not the article. Scroll down, or use this.

    • Thanks for the correction—I don’t know where Dallas came from. As for the parking lot, I seem to have found the only source that said that. I deleted it and fudged the location, because it isn’t relevant to the issue.

  7. oldgraymary

    We need to change the laws that allow criminals who are injured in the commission of crimes to sue for those injuries; i.e., years ago when a farmer booby-trapped a storage building on his property that had been robbed multiple times, was sued by the robber and ended up losing his farm.

    • Agree wholeheartedly,oldgraymary. Did he have a No Trespassing sign? In my state they can’t sue if you have one.

      • Traps and mines on one’s land are illegal everywhere, or very close to it. It goes back to the British Common Law. Some people can’t read signs, you know.

        • I said a no trespassing sign,not mines and traps.

          “…or who without permission of the owner or the owner’s agent enters the real property of another person where such real property is posted with “No Trespassing” signs or other notices …is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six (6) months or by a fine of not less than twenty-five dollars ($25.00) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

          • Pardon, Karla, I thought you were speaking in reference to the previous post about eliminating the right to sue for getting hurt in a trespass. Trespass is also a common law crime.

            • Jack,I found this also.
              “Furthermore, an adult trespasser who is injured while on a defendant’s property cannot sue under a theory of strict liability, even if the landowner was engaged in ultrahazardous activities, such as the keeping of wild animals, or the use of explosives. Instead, the trespasser must prove that the property owner intentionally or wantonly injured the plaintiff to recover. The exception is a child who is trespassing to play on ultra-hazardous items on the land. Since these trespassers are considered “anticipated” they are excepted under the doctrine of attractive nuisance.”
              Sorry for the copying and pasting. It’s just easier.

        • On the other hand, all people should realize, whether illiterate or not, that they’re breaking the law by utilizing to any degree another’s property without his permission. When this occurs after the hours of darkness, the penalties are even more severe. That’s when, say, “breaking and entering” becomes “burglary”.

          • tgt

            B&E becomes burglary when something is taken. It has nothing to do with when it occurs.

            • Eeyoure

              Nitpicking: The way I learned “burglary” in my first law class (my grade: D) was, in part at least, something like (Okay, so maybe my grade should have been F), commission of a felony at night. The felony could be the taking of something, like you say tgt, but it could be some other offense, since “felony” has broader meaning. So I believe Steven is mostly correct (but I could be wrong); B&E during the daytime, by itself, may be a felony, but it is not burglary. I didn’t have to take a law class to know better than to go where I probably had no right to go in the first place, day or night. (I had a “right” to go to law class, but I probably never should have attended.)

              • The essential determining factor in burglary is that it occurs after the hours of darkness. That’s why the penalties for it are more severe and why a householder is usually allowed greater “latitude” in the measures he can take to defend against it. This destinction is centuries old.

  8. janpchapman

    Good news! He has been reinstated. Thanks, I might ad, to his union and those who boycotted the store, picketed and signed online petitions.

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