PHILADELPHIA >> A former Kohl’s employee has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the retailer and a loss-prevention officer falsely accused her of theft, resulting in $10,000 worth of lawyer fees and more than a year of legal wrangling before the case was dismissed.
Valerie Ann Deorio is alleging claims for malicious prosecution, false arrest and wrongful imprisonment, as well as defamation and wrongful termination in a complaint filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Kohl’s corporate offices could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Deorio, represented by attorney Matthew Weisberg, says she was hired as a seasonal employee in the cosmetics and fragrance department at the Havertown Kohl’s in September 2015.
Defendant Melissa Nelson, a loss prevention officer at the store, allegedly told Deorio to come to a back room Jan. 19, 2016, where she was accused of stealing items on Dec. 24, 2015, and Dec. 27, 2015. Deorio says police were called and she was led out of the store in handcuffs after refusing to sign a pre-written confession.
The complaint claims Deorio was not initially informed of the charges against her at the police station and was denied access to medication for seizures. She was held overnight and arraigned on six counts of theft by unlawful taking the following morning, according to the complaint. Neither the Haverford Police Department nor its officers are defendants in the suit.
The complaint says Nelson testified at a preliminary hearing in March 2016 that she had “computer information and stock keeping units” proving that Deorio had stolen merchandise from the store. Nelson allegedly never produced this information.
An edited video was also played for the district court that showed Deorio on different days “picking up stuff, putting it down and walking around,” according to the complaint. One theft charge was dismissed following the hearing and the remaining charges were held over for trial.
Deorio says she had 15 scheduled trial dates between March 2016 and June 2017, 13 of which were continued at the request of the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office. Several offers were also made to Deorio during this period, according to the complaint, and the charges were reduced from five misdemeanor theft counts to two summary counts.
The complaint says Deorio refused a final offer in May 2017 and her lawyer asked that the case finally proceed to trial. Deorio says she was placed on a two-hour call-in notice until June 26, 2017. The charges were dismissed two days later.
Deorio says she has worked part time in retail for more than 30 years without prior incident, and has suffered depression, severe anxiety, public humiliation, damages to her reputation and loss of employment as a result of the defendants’ alleged actions.
She is seeking statutory, punitive and compensatory damages, including damages for physical injury, wage loss, loss of earning capacity, and the costs of bringing suit.