Falsely-accused of shoplifting, immigrant makes a stand

T.J. Maxx responds with written apology letter

$5,000 donation made to South Asian Americans Leading Together

JONESBORO, Ark. – On Tuesday, Nov. 14, Pratiksha Khadka was humiliated in an incident she will never forget.

While shopping at T.J. Maxx on South Caraway Road in Jonesboro with her friend, also an immigrant, Khadka was unfairly and inaccurately reported to be a shoplifter. She was detained in the parking lot by police and searched before being allowed to leave. It happened under the watchful eye of a manager who then denied being involved when confronted.

How it Happened

“(He) and I both went to the store,” Khadka said. “As soon as we went into the store, we had not even looked at anything but my purse was heavy so he went back to put my purse in the car.”

It had not even been a minute, she told NEA Report. The two continued shopping. Then, Khadka’s friend mentioned he heard people talking about foreigners shoplifting in the store. He suggested the two leave but she said no. Surely, the obvious discussion was not about them.

But the A-State graduate student noticed employees stalking the immigrant couple from aisle to aisle. She said they realized they were the targets of the talk.

“I could tell that they were watching us and sneaking up by the aisle but I didn’t care,” Khadka said. “So I was there for like 45 minutes in the store and I was noticing they were not monitoring anyone else or even looking at anyone else. I got my stuff and when we were checking out, the manager was looking at us. I knew they were trying to single us out.”

As a native of Nepal, Khadka has become accustomed to awkward interactions. It comes with being an immigrant in the South, she said. Being accustomed to it, she tried to brush it off.

“I just walked out of the store with (my friend),” Khadka said. “The cops were on the left side of the store. The cops were following us and they weren’t even asking us to stop. When I reached my car, I turned around and asked the cops what did they need. Then they said they had received a call saying someone had shoplifted from the store and the person matched my description. I asked, ‘What description? They looked like me?'”

The cops asked if they could search her car. She told them they could. The Jonesboro Police Department officers, “were very nice,” she added.

“Then they asked if they could search my bag and that’s when I got mad,” Khadka said. “They were making a mess.”

The young woman asked them what was even stolen and they didn’t know, she said. However, the officer insisted she be allowed to searched Khadka’s purse. After searching, and finding nothing, police said she was free to go.

Khadka wasn’t leaving so soon. She was fed up and said she wanted to go back into the store. She returned to the store to confront the manager.

Manager Doubles Down on a Bad Decision

Khadka confronted the woman who identified herself as the manager. Immediately, the young Nepali girl said the manager started lying to her.

“She started lying and saying she didn’t even know the cops were here,” Khadka said. “I said, ‘I know you are lying.’ She said they were monitoring everyone.”

But the police confirmed they had not checked anyone else, nor were they planning to. The manager, caught in a lie, seemed incapable of realizing her own fault. No longer comfortable being a customer of a store which didn’t trust her, Khadka decided to return the items she had purchased.

Shockingly, the manager found the courage to make a statement at this point – and it wasn’t an apology.

The manager said, “Now we are equal,” Khadka said.

“She kind of got mad at me because I was telling them I wasn’t going to let this go,” Khadka said. “I said, ‘This was racism.’ One of the cashiers said, ‘Because of you, we will get in trouble.’ I don’t care. What happened to me wasn’t right.”

First, she felt like she was targeted for looking different. After standing up for herself, Khadka was being victim-blamed. From a compassionate and intelligent perspective, the description of events is sickening.

A young black female cashier sympathized. She said she had been singled out a lot unfairly, too. She said she felt bad for Khadka. It made her feel hope in a hopeless moment.

Making It Right

Determined, Khakda set out to make a bad situation better. She called the corporate office and reached their legal department, she said. The individual in legal checked the camera footage and said he did not find anything suspicious on her side at all. He apologized and said he didn’t know why the two were singled out, Khadka said. He said he was going to go to the store and speak to them about the situation.

The corporate office also apologized to Khadka. The apologies were not only for the experience, but for being lied to by the manager about what had happened.

“Then I got a call from district manager and she said she had worked hard for diversity,” Khadka said. “She said she was really sorry and asked what I wanted or what they could do for me to forget about this. I told her to give me two days time.”

After giving it some thought for several days, Khadka called back. She said she didn’t want any money. She also had a bit of an unexpected request: she insisted that T.J. Maxx not fire the manager. Her other requests were a letter from T.J. Maxx acknowledging the issue and assurances that diversity training would be implemented.

Both of her requests were granted by the company. Group President Richard Sherr sent a personal letter to the Jonesboro resident over her experiences.

“We were extremely disappointed to learn that this situation occurred, which we deeply regret,” said Sherr. “Through your eloquent email and conversations with our field management team, we have heard how terribly this experience has made you feel. Your sincerity and concern has come through loud and clear and we offer our most sincere apology for your experience. We are committed to improve on how we deploy our operational processes.”

The executive promised to implement more diversity training, including by highlighting this specific instance.

T.J. Maxx also decided to make a donation to the charity of Khadka’s choosing. She picked South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT, which received $5,000 from the retailer.

T.J. Maxx had completely met Khadka’s expectations, she said. She described it as a chapter that was closed in her life.

We asked her if she ever heard or received an apology from the manager who seemed to escalate the situation. She did not.

“Being a foreigner here in the south is hard,” Khadka said.

We asked why.

“I don’t know. Because I look different. But I’m not going to tolerate something that’s not right – for sure,” she said.

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