Have you ever had a kindly cashier offer to apply a spare coupon to your order as you’re checking out? It’s a nice gesture – but one that could land your cashier in hot water. That’s just what happened to a former Sears cashier in Texas, who was caught, fired and has now lost a federal lawsuit against his former employer.

74-year-old John Ng-A-Mann was an employee of a suburban Houston Sears for 13 years. But he was fired in June 2013, after admitting to engaging in what his employer called “coupon fraud.”

Not the kind of coupon fraud that involved stealing from the store. No, his crime was giving coupons to his customers, so they could save a few bucks on their purchases.

Similar to the Catalina coupons that print when you check out at Target or your local grocery store, Ng-A-Mann’s customers would receive printed Sears coupons after making a purchase. But some didn’t want them. So Ng-A-Mann saved them, and offered them to other customers instead.

And that was a big no-no.

Sears fired him, for violating its coupon policy. Such coupons are “intended only for one particular customer based on a triggering transaction,” Sears explained. “If a coupon prints out as part of the transaction and the customer refuses the coupon, the associate must destroy and discard the coupon immediately.”

Ng-A-Mann claimed that his store’s management routinely looked the other way, as it was commonplace for store employees to hold onto unused coupons and offer them to their customers. He alleged that the accusation of coupon fraud was a mere pretext to get rid of him, because of his age.

So he sued last year, for age discrimination. Sears disputed that his age had anything to do with his firing. And last week, a federal judge sided with Sears, dismissing Ng-A-Mann’s request for damages and lost wages. “The employer has a legitimate reason, unrelated to his age, for firing him,” the court ruled. “Because he has not rebutted the reason, he will take nothing.”

The age issue aside, why would Sears take such a hard line on coupons? Like those grocery Catalina coupons, Sears’ checkout coupons are meant to be used on a future purchase, turning a one-time shopper into a repeat customer. “For example, the cash register might generate a coupon for $25 off on a washing machine,” Ng-A-Mann’s lawsuit read. But if the customer didn’t want the coupon, “salespeople would use these coupons to help close sales for other customers.”

That upends Sears’ goal of offering targeted coupons to potential repeat customers. Instead, cashiers would essentially hand out surprise discounts to customers who are already shopping in the store, and likely to buy at full price. Sears complained that Ng-A-Mann’s actions caused the company to lose at least $2,900, and Ng-A-Mann himself profited from the commissions he made on those sales.

It’s hardly the first time a retail employee has been fired for violating a similar corporate coupon policy. And Sears said Ng-A-Mann’s defense that “everyone does it” is no excuse. The company said eight “significantly younger associates” at the same store were fired for similar behavior.

So just something to keep in mind, the next time a store clerk offers you a coupon. If that kindly cashier isn’t working there anymore the next time you visit – now you know why.

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