The Unappreciated Home Depot Hero

It’s more exciting than you think!

Ethics Alarms has dealt with this issue multiple times: an employee violates policy by intervening to prevent a crime or serious injury, and is fired for it.  In 2009, a bank teller named Jim Nicholson turned Batman and foiled a bank robbery, then was fired.. A would-be robber had pushed a black backpack across the bank counter to Nicholson and demanded money. The teller threw the bag to the floor, lunged toward the man and demanded to see a weapon. The robber sprinted for the door with Nicholson in pursuit. Eventually Bat-Teller  knocked the man  to the ground and held him until the police arrived.

The bank had to fire him. The episode could have gone wrong many ways, some resulting in bank customers and employees being injured or killed. Law enforcement repeatedly cautions against such conduct, and the bank’s policies were clear.

In other cases, no-tolerance makes no sense, as no-tolerance often does. In 2012, Ryan Young, then working in the meat department of a Safeway grocery store in Del Rey Oaks, California, witnessed a man beating a pregnant woman, apparently his girlfriend. Young told the man to stop, but when he continued with his assault, shoving and kicking her, Young jumped over his counter, pushed the thug away, and ended the attack.

Safeway fired him. So what would it have had Young do, stand there and wag his finger? This crossed into duty to rescue territory. Young did the right thing, and rather than blindly following a policy that didn’t fit the facts, Safeway should have realized that an exception was called for.. (Eventually public opinion and bad publicity forced Safeway to re-hire the hero). A similar scenario involved a lifeguard who violated his employer’s policy by saving a drowning man off a beach adjacent to the property where he was stationed. Jeff Ellis Management, an Orlando, Florida-based company, fired  21-year-old Tomas Lopez for daring to save a life pro bono, and was similarly pilloried by public opinion. Two lifeguards quit in support of Lopez, and he was also eventually offered his job back. Lopez told Jeff Ellis Management to get bent, or words to that effect.

Then there was this disgusting incident,  where a nurse at a Bakersfield, California senior living facility refused to follow a 911 operator’s instructions to assist an elderly woman who had stopped breathing because a policy said she couldn’t. The elderly woman died. The facility gave the nurse its “Employee of the Month” award.

(I’m kidding.)

Yesterday’s episode at Home Depot is somewhere between the bank teller and the others.

Jim Tinney, a 70-year-old veteran who was employed at a Home Depot in Texas was fired after  tossing the paint roller extension he was holding in the path of shoplifters who made a break for the door without paying for the tool sets, worth thousands of dollars, that they were carrying. The men escaped with their booty anyway, and  two weeks later, Tinney was terminated. A spokesman for the company said in a statement:

“We have a strict policy that only our trained security personnel can pursue and engage shoplifters. We’ve had deaths and serious injury over the years, and no amount of merchandise is more important than the safety of our associates and customers.”

“I think they could have written me up, reprimanded me, but terminate me? That’s pretty strong,” Tinney told the news media.  He claims that his actions were due to his military training kicking in, and now he is making the incident a public relations headache for the company.

Has anybody mentioned that it was just moral luck that Tinney’s “Home Alone”-style tactic didn’t work? I guess I should. Home Depot’s response should be exactly the same whether the two shoplifters tripped over the paint roller and knocked themselves cold, or dodged it.

Tinney’s age and veteran status naturally evoke sympathy, and his reaction was more MacGyver than Batman, but I think that this is bank teller territory, though a closer call. Home Depot was correct to fire him.

However, earlier this month, Home Depot fired another employee who falls on the opposite side of the Ethics Alarms line.

Dillon Reagan, 32, was finishing his shift in an Oregon Home Depot’s tool rental center when  a co-worker shouted for help after witnessing a violent, domestic dispute in the parking lot. “I stepped outside and sure enough, there’s this lady who’s frantic and crying, ‘Somebody help me please! He’s stealing my kid, he’s kidnapping my child!'”

“At the time, the only thing I was thinking about was the child’s safety,” said Reagan, who had worked at Home Depot for four years. Reagan and a co-worker left the store and called police. At the dispatcher’s direction, the two followed the man and child on foot until police responded about three blocks away. After giving their statements, Reagan said they returned to work.

Yes, he was fired. This is close enough to the Safeway scenario even if it turns out that it wasn’t an attempted kidnapping. Reagan was right to risk being fired under these circumstances, and it would have been ethical for Home Depot to make an exception in his case.

Dillon’s story didn’t get the national publicity that Tinney is getting.

Does anyone have a theory why?

22 thoughts on “The Unappreciated Home Depot Hero

  1. Dillon’s story is so clear to me that it makes no sense that he had any consequences from Home Depot. 1) He didn’t intervene. He contacted law enforcement. 2) He did as he was directed to do by police dispatch. The direction was not involvement but simply observe.

    So what did was the cause for termination? Job abandonment? Leaving the premises during your shift?

  2. I’d guess that Tinney’s action was a lot more dramatic than that of Mr. Reagan. More action adventure type of story, as opposed to the man who called in the cavalry and then followed the bad guy. Plus the age factor — one doesn’t expect a 70 year old to be the action hero. If the ages were reversed, I wonder if that would have made a difference in the coverage.

    Also, speaking of moral luck, what if Mr. Tinney’s shot had connected and the robbers had been seriously injured? Would they then have a case for damages against Home Depot or Jim Tinney or both? Could one argue that a reasonable robber exercising reasonable care in robbing a Home Depot should not have the expectation of suffering, say, a broken back or the like.

        • Miramar Air Station California a man trespasses into the station, into a restricted area and attempts to loot the copper out of a transformer, gets zapped, falls and is paralyzed. Sued and won based on lackof high voltage signage and ease of access. He also released a bunch of pcbs into a valley resulting in a millions of dollars and decade long cleanup.

          • These cases seem to rely on the fact that the injuries are caused by an indiscriminate property hazard.

            A loose card along the floor of a department store can not know if a customer, employee, or burglar.

            A drunk drover who hits someone running across the crosswalk does not get a free pass merely because that someone happened to be a rapist fleeing the scene of a rape.

            • Actually, unless my studying for the bar is going more poorly than even I think, those cases all turned on the extent of the force.

              An individual can use non-deadly force to protect their property. As Home Depot’s employee, Mr. Tinney was entitled to use non-deadly force. I certainly don’t think he used deadly force here- unless I’m missing facts.

              Note for people who, luckily, never have to take a bar: “Deadly” here doesn’t mean it actually killed you dead, it just means the extent of the force could have reasonably killed you dead or caused substantial bodily harm. Also, it’s the extent of the force that we measure for these tests, not the extent of the harm, which does somewhat limit how much moral luck affects this story.

  3. Tinney’s age and veteran status naturally evoke sympathy, and his reaction was more MacGyver than Batman, but I think that this is bank teller territory, though a closer call. Home Depot was correct to fire him.

    As a veteran, he was experienced with the concept of following orders- and the legal consequences of willfully disobeying orders.

  4. It being Oregon, I don’t expect there will be a lawsuit against Home Depot. In Texas, I think they get sued. We tend to rely more on personal responsibility and magnify the individual acting in extraordinary circumstances here. Just a thought.

    But suing would not really be ethical for Dillon.

  5. I believe it’s cases like these that give some progressives the inclination to defend illegal immigrants against a legal system that they feel a bit harsh (or outdated). The law says one thing, but the right thing to do is ‘to help people’. With the media and the politics getting in the way of truly understanding law and ethics, I can understand the confusion even if I disagree with illegal immigration.

  6. I once saw a video and news report about a scenario involving not a thief or assailant but an escaping pervert. A woman in a department store was approached by a man who asked her to try on some lingerie “so he could see how it would look on his wife”. She had remembered him approaching her in the same manner about a year ago, so she turned on her cell phone and recorded him. After she pointed the camera right at him and said “Hey, do you remember me from a year ago?” he turns, then starts walking quickly away. She follows, telling him to stop, then he breaks into a run. She chases after him yelling “Stop him! Stop him!” but nobody intervenes, and he gets clean away. The police ID’d him as someone who’d already been arrested once for sexual harassment, and put out his mugshot, asking for the public’s help in finding him.

    So, what is the obligation of bystanders in this instance? There was nobody in danger, and he wasn’t absconding with stolen goods, but he arguably DID need to be brought to justice, and the appropriate authorities weren’t on hand to do that. If someone is running your way, with someone else yelling “Stop him!” and you’re not even sure why they need to be stopped, should you intervene and hold the parties there until the police arrive? Or is it not ethical do that when there is no imminent harm being caused?

    • “So, what is the obligation of bystanders in this instance?”
      Call the police and if they have cameras record what happens. As they have not seen any actual crime, if they attempt to stop the person, they are risking being charged with assault if the person has done nothing.

  7. Based on the Home Depot policy, the company had every right to fire Jim Tinney.

    This brings up some questions that might be worth discussing.

    1. I know that it’s completely legal for a company to try to protect themselves from law suits by making a policy that employees can be fired from their job for trying to stop illegal activity while on the job, but are these kinds of policies actually ethical?

    2. What are the short-term and long-term work place consequences to enforcing such policies in the work place?

    3. What are the long-term society wide consequences to rigid enforcement of such policies?

    4. What messages do these wide spread policies send criminals?

    5. The police cannot be everywhere all the time to actually prevent crimes from happening or catch criminals in the act of committing a crime; criminals know this, criminals know that citizens are being manipulated into be nothing but action-less observers to crime as it happens (don’t get involved because you might get sued in civil court by the criminal) and they know that only a small percentage of crimes are actually solved; what’s out there to actively encourage people that might lean towards criminal activity to chose something other than a life of crime?

    6. Companies punish employees for trying to prevent crime and the courts have set a precedence that non-criminal citizens getting involved preventing a crime in progress might cost you in civil court. The non-criminal citizen population is the largest anti-criminal “force” we have, why are we constantly trying to subdue this force into allowing crime to happen?

    I’m just going to sit back and read replies to this for a while.

    Okay, discuss…

    • Instead of a blanket policy forbidding interference with shoplifters, I’m thinking it would be better for stores to have mandatory training on how to legally and safely restrain someone. Also, they could have some emergency lock remotes they could give to store personnel that could be used to disable the automatic doors. Shoplifter gets caught, they run for it, employee hits a button that puts the store on lockdown, then moves in with his colleagues to restrain the perp until the police arrive.

      As for civilians getting involved in crimes, laws tend to vary regarding “citizen’s arrests”. I think it would behoove each state to have easily accessible info (like on their website, PSAs, local news articles) on what is and isn’t legal with regards to self-defense, and restraining felons caught red-handed.

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