DEL REY OAKS (AP) — The Safeway supermarket chain is defending its decision to suspend a meat clerk at one of its Monterey County stores after he struck a man who had been kicking his pregnant girlfriend.
The Monterey Herald reports that customers angered by Safeway's actions on Sunday picketed the store in Del Rey Oaks where employee Ryan Young stepped between the couple on April 21.
"Ryan is a hero," Jennie Tezak of Monterey, who learned about Young's suspension on Facebook, told the Herald. "Domestic violence is uncalled for, deplorable. What Ryan did was heroic. Is Safeway really safe? Not without Ryan Young."
Some of the picketers said they were boycotting the store, even though it meant they had to drive a longer distance to get groceries.
Safeway spokeswoman Teena Massingill said Young was not suspended without pay for coming to the woman's aid, but for other unspecific actions during the confrontation that were caught on a store surveillance video. The company is reviewing the footage as part of an investigation that Massingill called "a standard feature of our process following an incident such as this."
"We've heard from a lot of customers who don't feel Mr. Young should have been suspended," Massingill said. "We understand this reaction. We agree that Mr. Young is to be commended for choosing to intervene."
But she told the Herald that the video footage "appears to reveal actions we cannot condone."
The union that represents Safeway workers in Northern California, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, has filed a grievance on Young's behalf that seeks to get him back on the job with back pay, spokesman Mike Henneberry said.
Henneberry said he assumes the company is relying on its zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace violence to justify Young's suspension, an interpretation with which the union disagrees.
"How can you acknowledge that he did the right thing yet he is suspended? That makes zero sense," Henneberry said.
The Del Rey Oaks Police Department and its chief arrested the man Young confronted and have praised Young for defending the woman. The man, Quyen Van Tran, was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to attend a 52-week domestic violence class after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery on Friday, according to the Herald.
Young, who is married and whose wife is pregnant, said the month-long suspension has been a hardship and that he has not been told how much longer it will last.
"I saw someone in danger, and I just reacted to the situation," he told the Herald.