WOOD VILLAGE, Ore. — A Multnomah County jury has ordered Walmart to pay $4.4 million in damages to Michael Mangum, a Black man who sued the store after he said he was racially profiled and harassed by an employee at the Walmart in Wood Village. According to the lawsuit, the employee "spied" on Mangum while he was shopping, ordered him to leave and then called police when he refused.
Walmart allowed the employee to keep his job for several months after the incident, Mangum's lawyers said, even after law enforcement refused to take action against Mangum and warned managers that the employee had a history of making false reports to police about customers.
According to the lawsuit and a news release from his attorneys, Mangum, who was 59 at the time, visited the Walmart located at 23500 Northeast Sandy Boulevard in Wood Village on March 26, 2020, to buy a light bulb for his refrigerator. After Mangum arrived, he noticed a store employee watching him as he shopped. The court filing says the employee, Joe Williams, "spied on Mr. Mangum."
Williams told Mangum to leave the store, but Mangum refused, saying he'd done nothing wrong. According to the news release from Mangum's lawyers, Williams told Mangum he was going to call the police and tell them Mangum had threatened to "smash him in the face."
Williams called the non-emergency police dispatch line and told the operator he "had a person refusing to leave," the lawsuit states. Williams told the operator that Mangum wasn't acting violently and didn't appear to be drunk or high, but that "he just keeps checking me out." He told the dispatch operator that he asked Mangum to leave because "he started flipping out on me."
According to Mangum's lawyers, deputies from the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) responded and "refused to take action against Mangum." The lawyers said deputies made that decision based on Williams' "shifting explanations" for the reason he called and because of his "reputation for making false reports to police."
The lawsuit states that after the incident, a store manager spoke to Mangum outside the store and told him the store had experienced "large losses from theft." Mangum told the manager that had nothing to do with him.
According to Mangum's lawyers, the following day, MCSO Sergeant Bryan White and an unnamed deputy returned to the store and met with Kelly Cooper, the director of the Wood Village Walmart, and assistant manager Dugan Harris. They explained that deputies had noticed a "pattern of behavior" in which Williams would call police to report "dangerous active situations, such as customers physically assaulting him or other employees." Deputies would later determine that Williams was reporting things that were not happening.
The store and Walmart corporate officials ignored these warnings about Williams' pattern of false reporting, Mangum's lawyers said, and kept him on the job for several more months after the racial profiling incident. He was eventually fired on July 9, 2020 for "mishandling $35 of Walmart property."
According to his lawyers, Mangum is a respected man in the community who works serving residents of a large housing project in Portland and counseling young people at risk of gang involvement. He's known by those with whom he works and serves as "Mr. Michael."
"His jobs would have been at great risk had he been charged with a crime, but he refused to be intimidated by Williams' lying and bullying," Mangum's trial lawyer, Greg Kafoury, said in a news release. "He lives the same message of self-respect that he teaches to young people, 'stand up for yourself when you know you're right.' Because of his courage, we were able to show the jury an unconscionable failure of responsibility by the world's largest corporation."
In a statement sent to KGW, Randy Hargrove, senior director for national media relations for Walmart, called into question some of the claims by Mangum's lawyers and said Walmart considers the verdict "excessive."
"We do not tolerate discrimination. We believe the verdict is excessive and is not supported by the evidence," Hargrove said. "Mr. Mangum was never stopped by Walmart's Asset Protection. He interfered with our associates as they were surveilling and then stopped confirmed shoplifters, and then refused to leave despite being asked to repeatedly by our staff and Multnomah County deputies. We are reviewing our options including post-trial motions."
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the jury in this case as a grand jury.