Believe it or not … but Dillard’s actually fired a worker last year for eating two hot dogs left over from a 4th of July employee picnic!
Apparently, the hot dogs were being saved for Labor Day and Nolan Koewler had no business eating them.
But fortunately for Koewler, who was originally denied unemployment benefits from Dillard’s after they fired him, won a court case relating to the incident and will indeed be getting his unemployment benefits after the Indiana Court of Appeals decided the company wasn’t justified in firing him.
“It’s been a long time coming, so I’m happy,” said Koewler, who had worked at Dillard’s since 2007. He said he “about fell on the floor” when his wife called to say the court’s decision was in the news Thursday.
A manager at Dillard’s declined to comment on the decision and referred a reporter’s questions to the company’s legal department. Messages left at the company’s corporate headquarters seeking comment were not returned.
Koewler was fired after he was seen on surveillance video eating the hot dogs purchased by Dillard’s after Dock Manager Mike Marz had said he wanted them “to be ‘saved for Labor Day,’” according to court documents.
Marz reportedly “told employees ‘to carry (the leftovers) up and put it in the freezers in the break room for storage,’ and (Marz) ‘believed’ Koewler had heard this instruction,” according to the justices’ ruling.
“I was never told about, you know, that they were supposed to be left over … and saved,” Koewler said.
Koewler admitted to taking and eating the hot dogs in a meeting with the store manager, according to the opinion. He was then given the option, after a police officer was summoned, of signing a statement saying that he had stolen the hot dogs or going to jail for a night. After opting to sign the document, Koewler was fired.
Koewler said he had just seen the hot dogs and “didn’t have any idea that … something like that would ever happen.”
“I was speechless,” he said. “I just let them do what they wanted. … They just escorted me out of the store, and that was the end of it.”
Koewler’s grandmother, Joan Koewler, was unhappy with the situation. She has since cut up her Dillard’s credit card and isn’t “going back to the store anymore,” she said.
“Why would you charge an employee for eating two hot dogs?” sheasked. “Who ever thought, though, that it was going to lead to being fired and losing your unemployment?”
Last August, an Indiana Department of Workforce Development claims deputy found Koewler “was not discharged for just cause and thus was not disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits,” according to the opinion. Dillard’s appealed that decision.
When the hearing’s administrative law judge maintained the deputy’s decision, Dillard’s appealed the case again — this time to the Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
The review board reversed the administrative law judge’s decision, leading Koewler to appeal to the court of appeals.
“It was a shock to me,” Koewler said.
The panel of three appeals court justices ruled unanimously that the review board’s finding — that Koewler was justly fired “as a hot dogdog thief” — “not reasonable.” The justices said there were no facts showing Koewler knew that he wasn’t authorized to take and eat the hot dogs.
“The record reveals that employees had been offered hamburgers and hot dogs for consumption; it does not reveal that the rescission of this offer of celebratory food was in fact communicated to Koewler,” according to the opinion.
In addition, the court wrote in its opinion that “Marz’s testimony indicates that the ‘off-limits’ hot dogs were those destined for a freezer,” but according to Marz and Koewler’s testimonies, Koewler had taken the hot dogs out of a refrigerator.
“Apparently, the instruction was unclear or disregarded because the food was retrieved from the refrigerator and not the freezer,” the opinion states.
Koewler wasn’t the only employee with access to that fridge — it was available to six employees, according to the opinion.
He wasn’t the only one accused of stealing leftover food, either: “At least one other employee was also accused of leftover food theft,” the opinion states.
Koewler said he is unsure if there was another reason why Dillard’s might have wanted to let him go.
“It’s hard to say what they were thinking,” he said. “It surprised me. … I don’t know what they had in their mind.”
Koewler’s grandmother said Dillard’s “seemed to like” Koewler after he got the job there.
Koewler said a previous Dillard’s store manager had talked to him about going into sales.
“I didn’t tell them yes or no at the time,” he said, explaining that he had wanted to think about it. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with … terminating me. … I would certainly nope not.”
Whether additional reasons existed as part of the store’s decision, Koewler is pleased with the court of appeals’ ruling.
“Just believe in the justice system,” he said. “It proves that it does work, even for something as little as that.”
We don’t know what’s worse. A guy getting fired from his job for eating two left-over hot dogs … or knowing that a big company like Dillard’s actually planned on serving three-month old hot dogs!