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Schnucks employee fired after couple claims racial bias over money order denial

ST. LOUIS - A local man and his girlfriend say they were denied a money order at an area Schnucks store because they are black and a store employee was eventually fired as a result.

The man, Kellen Hill, said the incident occurred Monday morning at the Schnucks Concord Center in south St. Louis.

Hill posted three videos of the incident on Facebook; his post saying, in part, “It’s really sad that you can’t be black and buy a money order without being accused of fraud.”

Hill said he went into the Schnucks earlier in the day to obtain a money order worth $1,100 to pay for rent. The employees working at the time told him he couldn't use a debit card to get the money order and to come back with cash. Employees voiced concerns over possible fraud.

A Schnucks spokeswoman confirmed Schnucks has reported several recent cases of money order fraud to U.S. Postal Inspectors. People had been using debit cards and out of state licenses (particularly Florida licenses) as part of a scam, she said.

Hill left the store, got the cash, and returned with his girlfriend. This time, his girlfriend went into the store—with the cash—and requested a money order. She was denied.

Hill, who says he recently moved to the area from Miami, went into the store with his phone and began recording the employee who denied them service. Other Schnucks customers came to their aid and also questioned why Hill and his girlfriend were being denied a money order.

The Schnucks employee being filmed identified himself as Travis Donahue. He said he was just following a recently put in place Schnucks anti-fraud policy.

The other customers asked if they could take the cash from Hill's girlfriend and obtain the money order on their behalf. Donahue refused.

In the video, Hill said he's obtained money orders from Schnucks since November and hadn't been denied in the past. Hill said Donahue called the police and attempted to have he and his girlfriend arrested for disorderly conduct.

Ultimately, Hill and his girlfriend got their money order for $1,100 and the employee, Donahue, apologized for their inconvenience.

A Schnucks spokeswoman said the company reviewed the matter and that Donahue had been fired as a result. The employee's decision to withhold the money order after Hill came back with cash was not in keeping with Schnucks policy and that’s why the worker was fired, the spokeswoman said. The spokeswoman also apologized to Hill for the ordeal.

Hill originally agreed to an interview with Fox 2/News 11, then decided to hold off after hiring an attorney. He’s encouraging people to share the videos, which have been viewed more than a half-million times as of Tuesday afternoon.

Statement from Schnucks:

"Creating an environment where customers receive exceptional service is one of Schnucks' core values. The exact opposite was on display yesterday, when a customer attempted to use cash to purchase a money order at one of our stores and was refused. This should not have happened. We have spoken to the customer by phone to apologize. The teammate involved was terminated. I would also like to publicly apologize as well.

The customer visited our store to purchase a money order with a debit card, and showed identification issued by the state of Florida. Due to multiple recent incidents of fraud where subjects were using stolen debit cards and showing out-of-state identification -- most frequently from the state of Florida -- to purchase high-dollar money orders, the customer was asked to use cash to make the purchase instead. Later in the day, the customer complied with the request, when his wife returned to the store with cash. The money order should have been sold to her at that point. It was not.

I deeply apologize to the customers and am incredibly disappointed in the poor judgement that was used in handling this incident. Although the teammate was focused on the recent increase in fraud, once the customer produced cash for the transaction, the money order should have been sold without further issue. I want our customers to feel welcomed and respected in our stores and I sincerely apologize for how our customers were treated in this instance. We have also extended an offer to the customers to meet with them in person to offer our apologies as well."

Todd Schnuck

Chairman & CEO, Schnuck Markets, Inc.