Should I Be Embarrassed That A Supermarket Cashier Assumed I’m Receiving WIC?

Shopping at her local Publix supermarket, Kathleen took some of her wholesome, perishable groceries–dairy and fruit–and put them on the conveyor belt before the rest of her items. This prompted the cashier to assume that since she had put the dairy items first, that she would be paying for those with a WIC check. She could have shrugged, said “no,” and forgotten about the incident. But the false assumption, the volume of the cashier’s voice and the attention that the question drew to her really embarrassed and upset Kathleen. She complained to store management and wants an apology from corporate that is not forthcoming.

WIC, if you’re not familiar, stands for Women, Infants, and Children, a federally-funded, state-administered program that provides nutritious food to pregnant or breastfeeding women, and to low-income families with small children. The vouchers they issue cover only specific brands and sizes of a limited list of items. They need to be processed in a specific way at stores, and experienced WIC shoppers know to separate those items out. Kathleen didn’t know this.

Here is part of the letter that she wrote to Publix about the incident and how store management treated her.

When shopping at Publix Supermarkets, one expects to hear, “Paper, plastic, or do you have your own bag?

One NEVER expects to hear “YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA’AM”? Oh, and not just once but twice and so loud that everyone around you is staring. Well that is exactly what happened to me on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 – 8:15PM.

Publix cashier, [redacted], caused me extreme embarrassment and humiliation. I was mortified!

You see, as I put my milk, cheese, grapes, etc… on the conveyor belt, [the cashier] screams out “You got a WIC check ma’am?” My eyes got wide, my head popped up and I looked around wondering if she was talking to me ~~ well, yes, yes she was. When I said “excuse me?”, she screamed it out again – Now, people were staring, not just the ones from the first time she screamed it out loud but now, even more.

As I walked up to the register, I asked her why would she scream out something like that? She didn’t apologize, just states, “What!, lots of people have it!” “So”, I said, “you assume that I do?” “You have embarrassed and humiliated me.” And as I left, I realized just how mortified I was.

I have spoken to various management personnel associated with this store and I have been “well-educated” on the workings of the WIC program and how I should understand because WIC checks must be entered a certain way. How about Publix being “understanding” because their employee humiliated me? What do Publix employees ASSUME about other customers? Does this make what happened to me OK? NO, it does not. Does it make stereo-typing appropriate – NO, it does not.
The manager of the [redacted] Publix store advised me that the cashier did not judge me by my appearances but by the way I placed my groceries. REALLY???

Wednesday, May 23, 2012, [redacted] from your risk management department called me. He advised me that there was no stereo-typing or discrimination, that the cashier just assumed, and that yes, it was wrong for her to assume.

The question is why she assumed. Kathleen presumes the worst (whatever that might be) but it could be that someone who spends all day handling grocery transactions notices that customers receiving WIC tend to put those items first on the conveyor belt, and that’s all.

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