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Jury finds in favor of 7-Eleven in wrongful firing case

October 24, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Eight jurors decided Wednesday that 7-Eleven did not act wrongfully when in July 2000 it fired an employee who two weeks earlier had foiled an armed robbery.

Because of the jury's verdict, Antonio V. Feliciano, 29, will not receive any of the $105,000 he sought from his former employer for compensatory damages.

The case began July 14, 2000, when a woman entered the 7-Eleven store at the entrance of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on W.Va. 9 East carrying a sawed-off rifle. She ordered Feliciano and a female clerk to empty their cash registers, which they did.

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After giving the woman money, Feliciano grabbed her gun and wrestled her to the ground, holding her there until deputies with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department arrived.

Two weeks later Feliciano was fired, in part because he violated a company policy against resisting a robber. The case received local, national and international media attention.

Glenda Renee Hull, who was 35 when the attempted robbery occurred, was arrested and later pleaded guilty to one count of carrying a firearm during a violent crime. She was sentenced to prison, where she remains.

After listening to a day and a half of testimony in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg, jurors deliberated for an hour Wednesday before deciding in favor of 7-Eleven. Jurors had to decide whether the Texas-based company wrongfully fired Feliciano.

After a court clerk read the jury's verdict aloud and the jurors left, Feliciano took off his tie and quickly left the courthouse.

Lloyd Scott, a regional loss prevention manager for 7-Eleven, said he was happy with the verdict.

"I think the jury did the right thing," he said. "They decided that that one short moment of glory for (Feliciano)" wasn't worth the safety of other clerks, Lloyd said.

Feliciano's attorney, Paul Taylor, said he will meet with his client soon to decide whether to appeal the decision.

Taylor said this trial was an attempt to get "the icing on the cake." He said Feliciano already won in principle when the state Supreme Court earlier ruled that an at-will employee cannot be fired for exercising his or her right to self-defense. No monetary damages accompanied that decision.

In his closing statement, 7-Eleven's attorney, Charles Printz, said 7-Eleven did not fire Feliciano for acting in self-defense.

He said Feliciano was "separated" from 7-Eleven because he violated a company policy that clerks are not to confront or resist a robber; because when Feliciano grabbed the gun, the robbery was over; and because Feliciano lied on his job application by not indicating he had a felony conviction.

In 1995, Feliciano pleaded guilty to photographing sexually explicit acts of a minor. The jurors - five men and three women - did not learn the nature of the conviction, only that one existed.

Taylor maintained that Feliciano was fired for acting in self-defense.

"Firing this man for what he did is wrong," Taylor said in his closing statement. "The company claims that it wants to save lives. But what about livelihoods?"

He said when Feliciano grabbed the gun, he had no time to consider the company's non-confrontation policy.

"He wasn't trying to save a Big Gulp. He was trying to save his life," Taylor said. "He did every one of us in here a favor, including 7-Eleven. He got an armed robber off the streets."

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