The CEO of popular women’s athletic store Lululemon has defended the termination of two employees who chased thieves from a store in Atlanta.
Calvin McDonald said the former “educators” – Lulumenon lingo for staff members – violated company policy but stressed that they were not fired for reporting the burglary to the police.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy that we train our educators on around engaging during a theft,” McDonald said during an appearance on CNBC. “Why? We put the safety of our team and our guests front and center. It’s only merchandise at the end; they’re trained to step back, let the theft occur, and know that there’s technology and cameras, and we’re working with law enforcement.”
“Unfortunately, in this situation, the educators knowingly broke the policy and engaged with the thieves across multiple points — including following them out of the store. So post-investigation and the zero-tolerance policy, which is well known, that was what resulted in the termination,” he continued. “We train them to step back. It’s about their safety, and we take that policy seriously because we’ve had instances — and we’ve seen instances in other retailers — where employees step in and are hurt, or worse, killed.”
The two women were fired in May after two masked robbers entered the store and began taking clothing from the racks.
Jennifer Ferguson and Rachel Rogers yelled at the perpetrators and chased them from the store. Video of the incident went viral, showing the robbers fleeing with armfuls of clothes as the women yell and follow them out of the store. They did not make any physical contact with the perpetrators.
The three suspects involved in the incident are facing felony charges.
Rogers and Ferguson, who was the store’s assistant manager, have accused Lululemon’s management of firing them for calling the police to the store.
The Peachtree Corners location has reportedly had several robberies in recent months.
“We are not supposed to get in the way. You kind of clear path for whatever they’re going to do,” Ferguson told 11Alive. “And then, after it’s over, you scan a QR code. And that’s that. We’ve been told not to put it in any notes, because that might scare other people. We’re not supposed to call the police, not really supposed to talk about it.”
Ferguson said the company terminated her “immediately” with no severance because of a no-tolerance policy, but without offering a specific explanation.
Following online criticism, Lululemon released a statement saying the women were “terminated for knowingly violating our zero-tolerance policy related to physically engaging with the perpetrators which put their lives and the safety of our guests and other employees at risk.”
“Employees are able and instructed to call 911 when needed, and that was not the cause of termination in this case. We are grateful no one was hurt during this altercation,” the company said. “At Lululemon, our people’s safety is our number one priority, which includes an absolute zero-tolerance policy for our employees engaging with guests in a way that could put themselves, or others, in harm’s way.”