Staples Apologizes for Accusing Pregnant Woman of Stealing, Hiding Back-to-School Supplies Under Her Shirt

A pregnant woman claims she was embarrassed at a Staples in North Carolina after she was accused of shoplifting.

Sherell Bates told WSCO-TV that she was back-to-school shopping at the Staples located in the McMullen Creek Market shopping center in Pineville, North Carolina, on Friday when she was approached by a police officer while she was checking out.

"Midtransaction, a police officer approached me and insisted he wanted to speak with me,” Bates said. “He asked what was under my shirt.”

Bates, who is 34 weeks pregnant with twins, told the news station that she thought the officer was joking and told them that she was having a girl and a boy. 

"At that point, to avoid him asking me again, I actually lifted my shirt just a little bit, just to expose my belly, so he could see that I'm just a regular pregnant person buying school supplies,” Bates told the news station.

457722992-594x594 A Staples office supply store is seen in Springfield, Virginia, October 23, 2014. A pregnant woman claims she was accused of theft from a Staples in Pineville, North Carolina. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

A spokesperson from the Pineville Police Department confirmed to Newsweek that a uniformed, off-duty police officer working at the shopping center on Friday responded to a call from a store manager who claimed that a woman was “concealing merchandise” under her shirt.

Bates told the news station she confronted the manager, who allegedly admitted to calling the officer. Bates, who is black, claimed the manager told her that the store has had thefts in the past, with customers hiding merchandise under their clothes.

"When I confronted her about what happened, she admitted that, 'In the past, we've had a lot of people putting school supplies or merchandise in their clothes and hiding, so I asked the officer to reach out to you,’” Bates told WSCO-TV.

Bates claimed she has never felt more humiliated and regretted leaving her home to go shopping, WSCO-TV reported. She told the news station that she was going to contact the Staples’ corporate office and might take legal action against the company for its accusation.

“You pretty much jumped the gun without any type of evidence, except my stomach is large,” Bates said. “That’s not fair. No mom should have to go through that."

In a statement emailed to Newsweek, Staples said the company apologized to Bates and said the soon-to-be mother was offered a full refund. The manager has been fired from the company for failing "to adhere to our existing policy on how to interact with our customers."

"Staples has since conducted a full investigation into the matter and determined that the manager in question did not follow correct protocol and also failed to adhere to our existing policy on how to interact with our customers. As a result of this finding, the manager has been terminated and Staples has apologized to the customer," the statement read. "At Staples, we want all customers to feel welcome in our stores, and work with our associates to foster an inclusive culture. As an organization, we would like to apologize to the customer as that was not the case in this instance.”

In May, Nordstrom Rack issued an apology to three black men after they were falsely accused of stealing from the store. Mehki Lee, a freshman at Alabama A&M University, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he and his friends were shopping at a Nordstrom Rack in St. Louis for prom clothes and were accused of theft by an employee who was following them around the store.

This story has been updated to include an updated statement from Staples.