It seems odd to shoplift a pair of $4 gloves while paying for $1,445 worth of other items. But that's what Jimin Chen was accused of doing at the Home Depot store in San Leandro, California. Odder still is what he says the company did to him after.
According to Chen he and a friend each put on a pair of gloves from the store while loading a cart with $1,445 worth of items. He removed the gloves during checkout and put them on the cart but the gloves weren't scanned. Chen claims to have been nabbed at the exit by a security guard, taken to a room in the back of the store for questioning, and then handcuffed after suffering an asthma attack. He says he was released after signing an agreement to stay out of the store for 90 days.
Now for the odd part; less than a week later Chen received a letter from a Florida law firm representing Home Depot demanding a payment of $350 to settle the charge of shoplifting. He ignored that letter and a second one arrived demanding $625. Both letters threatened legal action if he did not pay up.
Chen has since been named as a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed against Home Depot in Superior Court in Alameda, California. The suit accuses Home Depot of using "demand letter mills" to shake down customers for arbitrary and unjust "damages" with false threats of criminal prosecution.
In a number of states—including California—companies victimized by shoplifting are permitted to sue alleged perpetrators in civil court. Chen's suit claims Home Depot acted illegally by ignoring the requirement to file suit and attempting to intimidate alleged shoplifters into paying amounts above and beyond California's statutory limit of $500.
Stephen Holmes, a spokesman for Home Depot, said the company hasn't reviewed the details of the case but maintains that the practice of civil demands is lawful.