On April 21, Quyen Van Tran was in a Safeway store near Monterey when he began abusing his pregnant girlfriend. He was in full view of customers and workers but no one did anything to stop him until a meat clerk, Ryan Young, intervened.
KION, a local news channel in Del Rey Oaks, reports on how Young described the incident:
“Every few seconds he would turn around and push her and then he actually kicked her,” Young said. “I told him to calm down and he was just irate.”
Young said Tran refused to stop and jumped in to stop the assault.
“I saw no one was intervening in the situation and I just became afraid for her safety and also other customers safety,” Young said. “The guy was out of control and pretty much lost it in there.”
Not only did witnesses corroborate Young’s story and applaud his reaction, so did local police. Police Chief Ron Langford said that if Ryan had not intervened, things could have become much worse.
But Safeway didn’t commend its hero-worker. Instead the company suspended Young without pay with Safeway spokeswoman, Wendy Gutshall, making this ambiguous statement:
“Safeway is taking this matter seriously. We have store security video of the incident and have been engaged in a careful and thoughtful forensic review of what transpired.”
It’s been a month since Young has been without work and without pay. Young also has a pregnant wife and he says that earning no wages has been a hardship and a stress on his family. Yet Safeway has not shared any information with him about when or if he can expect to get his job back.
Then last Tuesday, Safeway held a shareholders meeting at which the company’s General Counsel, Robert Gordon, made a sexist joke where he compared Nancy Pelosi and Hilary Clinton to pigs. A blogger, Kaili Joy Gray, posted the joke and an audio clip. The news spread around the internet; Congressmembers heard it and wrote this letter to Safeway asking for an apology:
We are writing to express our strong disapproval of inappropriate comments reportedly made by Safeway General Counsel Robert Gordon at Safeway’s May 15 shareholder meeting. We are deeply disappointed by these comments and believe Safeway must take corrective steps immediately.
According to an audio recording reportedly taken from the shareholder meeting, General Counsel Gordon inappropriately used House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the butt of his joke, as follows:
You know, this is the season when companies and other institutions are interested in enhancing their reputation and their image for the general public, and one of the institutions that’s doing this is the Secret Service, particularly after the calamity in Colombia. And among the instructions given to the Secret Service agents was to try to agree with the president more and support his decisions. And that led to this exchange that took place last week, when the president flew into the White House lawn and an agent greeted him at the helicopter. The president was carrying two pigs under his arms and the Secret Service agents said, “Nice pigs, sir.”And the president said, “These are not ordinary pigs, these are genuine Arkansas razorback hogs. I got one for former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and one for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” And the Secret Service agent said, “Excellent trade, sir.”
Poking fun at politicians is part of our culture, and TV comedians carry this out nightly. But sexist jokes told by a top executive of a Fortune 500 company to an international audience are completely inappropriate and demonstrate a shocking lack of respect, not only for two of the most important and respected people in our country but for all women.
Safeway owes an apology to Secretary Clinton, Leader Pelosi, and the country. It is up to the Safeway board to decide what action to take against its general counsel for his comments but let there be no doubt as to our strong disapproval and deep disappointment in your company for what he said.
Reps. George Miller, Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, Mike Thompson, Lynn Woolsey, Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi, Doris Matsui, Barbara Lee, and Mike Honda
Robert Gordon then made this half-hearted response:
“I sincerely apologize if the opening comments I made at the recent annual stockholders meeting offended anyone. As these comments have been interpreted, they are not a reflection of my personal beliefs or that of my employer. I understand how my comments have impacted others and I hope they will accept my apology.”
As these comments have been interpreted? Huh? Is there some other way to interpret them that I’m not seeing here?
Because of links on the internet, that sexist joke story combined with the Ryan Young story to fuel public awareness about Safeway’s mistreatment of its worker.
A petition on Change.org to get Ryan Young his job back had about 3,000 signatures on Friday. But as of this writing, the petition has grown to 177,630 signatures. Safeway’s Facebook page has also been deluged with comments from customers upset about how Young has been treated.
Yesterday, Safeway came out with another statement in reaction to the public outcry. Here it is in full:
We’ve heard from a lot of customers who don’t feel Mr. Young should have been suspended following an altercation with a customer in our Del Rey store.
We understand this reaction. We agree that Mr. Young is to be commended for choosing to intervene and come to the defense of the woman involved.
However, a videotape of the entire incident appears to reveal actions we cannot condone. It is those actions, subsequent to the initial confrontation, that we are trying to understand more clearly.
We wish to be very clear about the fact that Mr. Young was not suspended for coming to the aid of one of our customers. That action was courageous and correct.
At the same time, we believe we owe it to our employees and our customers to understand as fully as possible everything that took place in this incident.
It is important that we complete a thorough investigation of this incident and respect the process we have in place with the union representing Mr. Young before we reach a decision on his status with our company.
Safeway is obviously indicating that there is something on that video tape, something the public doesn’t know about, something quite separate from Young’s “courageous and correct” action, that somehow justifies suspending Young without pay. It’s curious that Safeway would think that when police condone Young’s actions.
If there is something we don’t know about here, please release the tape, Safeway. Or be more clear about what you have an issue with. Because right now, from your ambiguous statements and slow reactions, it seems like your first priority is to prevent potential lawsuits rather than prevent domestic violence.
What is also disturbing about this story is that Safeway’s fear of getting involved in stopping a crime, its abysmal treatment of Young, is symptomatic of culture that consistently doesn’t get, doesn’t respond to, and doesn’t care much about stopping domestic violence.
Domestic violence is the most common health problem for pregnant women. Do you know how many health problems pregnant women have? And DV is the most common?
One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.
If DV is so widespread, why do so few people know basic facts about this epidemic?
Part of the reason is that because only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.
Survivors are often too ashamed or too frightened to follow through with charges. It’s pretty hard to imagine how survivors have much hope of of getting over being shamed when the people who try to help them also get punished.
That’s actually a major reason why DV is so common: time and again, bystanders look away. People who could help instead decide that DV is none of their business, that it’s a private matter. That intervention taboo exists without even taking into account worry about a lawsuit or job loss.
Nearly three out of four (74%) of us personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. That means you probably know a survivor.
For years, direct service workers in the DV community have been working hard to educate bystanders so more people will do their part to stop the violence.
Right now, Safeway has the opportunity to take a leadership role in educating the public about violence against women. Instead, the company chooses to punish its worker by suspending him without pay and hardly communicating with him for one month.
Please don’t be a passive bystander. Tell Safeway that its behavior is unacceptable. Go to Change.org and sign the petition to get Ryan Young his job back with back pay.
Update: The Mayor of Del Ray Oaks, Jerry B. Edelen, wrote this letter to the Monterey County Herald:
The recent incident involving the Safeway employee who intervened to protect a pregnant woman from being struck by her male companion represents a gross miscarriage of justice on the part of Safeway.
Del Rey Oaks Police Chief Ron Langford, a law enforcement officer with over 30 years of experience, has thoroughly investigated the incident, including viewing a videotape of occurrence, and has concluded that the employee was justified in his actions. Chief Langford has written the employee a letter praising him for his actions.
Of course Safeway has the authority and responsibility to conduct its own investigation. Where Safeway has erred is placing the employee on unpaid leave. This action, in effect, is punitive. By theoretically saving an insignificant amount of money by not paying the employee during the investigation, Safeway is losing considerable sales revenue and customer goodwill. Citing “having to follow set administrative procedures” is no excuse. Leadership means that sometimes standard operating procedures should be modified to ensure justice.
I will place this matter on our next City Council agenda and ask that the council support a resolution praising the Safeway employee for his courageous actions.
Jerry B. Edelen
Del Rey Oaks mayor
(Full disclosure: My father is a former CEO of Safeway. He left the company in 1993 and the board in 2005.)