Grocery store cashier says he was fired for hugging a customer

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WHITEHALL, Mich. - A Muskegon County grocery store employee says he was fired for giving a customer a hug.

It's controversy that's ripping through the small community of Whitehall and has Fred Civis accused facing charges.

Civis says it was just a hug, a friendly way he has greeted customers throughout his 39 years at Plumb's Valu-Rite Foods.

 Fred Civis claims he was fired from grocery store for giving a hug.

Fred Civis claims he was fired from grocery store for giving a hug.

But the alleged victim felt differently, leading to Civis’ termination and criminal charges.

A Facebook page called "Boycott Whitehall Plumb's for Fred" started this week as members of the community rallied together Wednesday in support of Civis, holding signs and chanting “We want Fred!”

Civis described the incident to FOX 17:  “A pal hug, you put your arm around the shoulder, you put your arm around the shoulder, ya know, you’re best pals,” he said.

Civis says on July 24 he was fired a few days after the customer complained. But the incident was far from over when a sheriff’s deputy came to his home and arrested him on charges of misdemeanor assault and battery.

The situation inspired Whitehall resident Timothy Cooper to start a Facebook page in support of Civis.

“I just want to cry, because it makes me feel great,” Civis said of the support.

“Fred’s been here almost as long as Plumb’s has," Cooper said. "I remember Fred when I was young. he`s been here close to 40 years.”

Plumb’s President and CEO James Nader released a statement:

“Plumbs Value-Rite Foods is committed to providing a safe, enjoyable shopping experience for all of our customers. We have policies in place at all of our Plumb’s locations to ensure that everyone who comes to our store is treated appropriately and respectfully.

"The decision to terminate Fred Civis from our Whitehall Market was difficult. The decision came after multiple violations of our policies, one of which resulted in a criminal complaint from a shopper at our Whitehall store. Though we have received strong criticism for our decision we remain firm in our belief that the safety and comfort of our customers must always come first.

"We are honored to serve our customers as their neighborhood market and we will continue working to ensure that Plumb’s customers have the finest shopping experience anywhere.”

While supporters protested Civis’ termination outside Plumb’s, an employee came outside and gave Civis a hug and told him she misses him.

“That’s why I wanted to do this job, keep this job, to make a difference, and this is proving that I have made a difference,” Civis said.

Civis will be back in court for a preliminary hearing for the misdemeanor assault and battery charge on Sept. 16.

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    • Bob

      What should have happened is they should have banned that low life scum bag customer. Pressing assault charges? Are you F’ing kidding me?
      This all smells like a person looking to sue and make a fortune of the grocery store. If this person lives in the community I sure hope they like being shunned by every living soul there. Not to mention they can expect crappy service wherever they go now.

    • Kerry

      Some people don’t want to be touched; you don’t know what people have been through. I do not allow people to hug me that I do not know and/or give permission to do so. But the people that I know would wait for the invitation He has been warned. STOP. NO MORE. How hard is that to get through your head…….

      • Jane

        I agree that some people are uncomfortable with that kind of attention. I think there is sympathy for this man due to his age. Would everyone be this upset if he were in his 20’s? NO. Everyone would think he were hitting on these women. Well, even at the age he is, who’s to say he’s not? I get creeped out when people invade my personal space. A complete stranger going to “hug” me at the grocery store? Yes, I would feel uncomfortable with that.

        • Giovanni

          For all the peanut brains complaining about the discomfort of being hugged by a stranger (lol), does it warrant assault charges?

          When you look into the abyss, what do you see?

      • JennyJustice

        I am a person who does not like to be touched by men aside from husband, dad, brothers a few very good male friends. I know that is my issue due to things that happened to me when I was a child, but nonetheless, uninvited hugs from men are extremely uncomfortable. That said, I have a brain, a mouth, and enough moxy to simply pull away in a way that lets them know I don’t like and not to do it again. If they still don’t get it, I tell them I don’t like it – nothing personal. When women make a mountain out of a mole hill regarding unsolicited flattery or affection, they are simply seeking attention and enjoying being seen as someone desirable. It’s not necessary to ruin someone’s life over something so petty. I hope the attention she’s garnered from her family and friends was worth this man’s happiness. Shame on her for being a coward and not simply pushing away and saying “please don’t.” But I guess that doesn’t get the same response from people as claiming it was sexual in nature and you somehow suffered. Get a life!

        • Ang

          NO ONE SHOULD EVER HAVE TO TELL AN EMPLOYEE OF A BUSINESS NOT TO TOUCH THEM. It’s common sense, AND common decency. This woman’s personal space was violated and I think it sends a message to ALL MEN. Don’t TOUCH.

        • CanadianPerspective

          Idk what happened to you as a child although I have my suspicions. I just wanted to say my heart goes out to you. I can understand why you’re not a big fan of hugs, you’re just guarding yourself. I’m the same way, I don’t like hugging although I understand the sincere warmth behind it. Perhaps, we just need to be cured and receive thousands of hugs from well intentioned people to help us get over this phobia. Perhaps, it would aid us in the healing process and cure any flashbacks from our painful past.

        • Cat

          According to the article he was fired for multiple violations, so maybe there are previous complaints and he still continued to do it until someone had to file charges. While I feel kind of bad for him, you can’t go around touching people without their permission and it’s obvious that he didn’t have at least 1 persons permission.

      • Bronwyn

        While I think he meant no harm, I agree with you that some people do not want to be physically touched. I am one of them and would be very uncomfortable indeed if a stranger hugged me. I wouldn’t however bring charges against him but I would probably not go back to that store again.

      • Borissgal

        Wow! How ridiculously far this has gone!
        Loo, I have been ogled and verbally molested since I was 12 by men. Older men who saw their child’s babysitter as a play toy or fantasized about touching her… then I was raped at the age of 17, on a date no less! But I would never see this man’s hugs as a threat. If you have learned anything about men in all those experiences, it’s body language and intent. You can literally see, in the eyes of people, what they intend and you eventually tune in to what they are about. I don’t see that in this man, I see love for mankind…. period. I don’t blame “all men” for the things that happened, just as I wouldn’t condemn “all dogs” as biters just because I had been bitten by one. That is just ridiculous. Stop being victims and start living. Your eyes can only relate to your brain what your heart is allowing.

  • Amanda Dougherty

    I think he is a great guy he brings a smile to my face when I shopped there I don’t see button wrong with a hug heck that’s some peoples way of showing they care since Fred is gone it will be lonely Cruz he was the life of plumbs now I will not go to any plumbs Cruz they treat there employees like crap and to the customers if you not a huggable person and then stay away from Fred cuz that’s how he shows compassion bring Fred back.

  • Jim Haley

    There are a lot of ol bears in the Whitehall store as office folks,, Fred is refreshing.. Mushc more needs to be said about the one accusing him of hugging. Proabably an old bear. Walmart is on their tail and this will not help them at all,,, Lets hear more of the accuser.

  • sharon nile

    This is the most absurd thing i have ever heard. I have know Fred for 30+ years and NEVER known him to be anything but kind, caring,and a loving person and mostly a true Christian. He is the only thing in that store that is caring and friendly. The other cashiers in that store are nothing but rude, and for them to fire Fred is utterly ridiculious! He was falsely charged and shame on the person who did this to him and shame on Plumbs store for firing him! I will not step foot inside that store again until Fred is redeemed!!!!!!!

    • CanadianPerspective

      Please give Fred Civis a huge hug from me! Love and support from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.❤️ Hopefully, after this mess is cleaned up another employer will offer him a job. However, me advice to Fred in the future is just simply ask customers permission to hug them ahead of time. Someone needs to make Fred a shirt saying FREE HUGS!💙💜💛💚 Hopefully police drop the charges against this kind-hearted man.😢

  • tl

    Personally, I don’t want someone hugging me when I come into a store. I’d rather be bothered by someone selling something or trying to get a donation and those things really bug me. It’s inappropriate for someone to hug people he/she doesn’t personally know.

    • D A

      I’m sure your one that wants the pledge of allegiance changed and Merry Christmas replaced with Happy Holidays. There are to many people in this world with your attitude. If there were less like you and more like him I bet this world would be a lot more caring and compassionate.

      • tl

        There’s no reason to change the pledge or stop saying Merry Christmas. But my body is exactly that, my body and no one has the right to touch it without my permission. That is the law.

      • Jon

        Umm, you are aware that the pledge of allegiance was changed aren’t you? The words “under God” were added back in 1954. I guess the WWI and WWII generations were not patriotic since they never said that phrase. And saying Merry Christmas to someone who might be a Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Atheist is very rude as is hugging someone who doesn’t want to be hugged.

  • Mack Mckenzie

    People have to protest this firing. I have shopped there since moving into the area 2 years ago. He is most pleasant. People should fill shopping carts with food, ask for Fred and then leave the store. Lets go.

    • Suzy Q

      what a great idea! I haven’t shopped there in years and have NO desire to step over the threshhold of mean and nasty people running the place.

  • Lorri

    Who is the person that turned him in. They need to be charged with being and ASS plain and simple. What the hell is wrong with the world anymore. Would it have killed that person to just say to Fred, “I am sorry, but that really bothers me, please do not hug me?” But NOOOO there has to always be complaints behind peoples backs and lawsuits filed. CARMA…. What goes around comes around.

  • vkhanson

    I’ve seen Fred at that store since 1986 and never has he hugged me. But he has always been the friendly face I looked forward to. I agree with comments about huggng not being appropriate, but had he attempted a hug, I would have smiled and said, “I’m not a hugger Fred. But thanks for your friendly gesture.” I would not have pressed charges for heavens sake. Some people are just huggers. Perhaps Plumbs should have put him on suspension and thought about this instead of a direct fire. P. S. I want to know about the person who complained! For shame to him/her.

  • Scott

    Send that man to some much needed anger management classes….oh wait, it was a hug. Hope that accuser doesn’t ever attend Unity Fest…the whole crowd would end up in the clink.

  • nicholas olds

    That’s it. No more Plums for me either. So tired of the way our employers are allowed to treat us right here in the U.S.A. Land of the free??? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves Plums. Asses

      • Lynn

        Her name is Kendall. From his wife on fb post This is Fred Civis’ wife Marsha Civis and he wanted me to tell everyone who is supporting him and helping him through all this time of trouble THANK YOU ALL FROM THE BOTTOM MY HEART. He sees how many people back him up. This is a terrible accusation that has been brought up on him. He did nothing wrong and I am standing right up along side of him. When will this world of generation listen to each other. You will learn something in the long run. I LOVE YOU FRED and will always be there for you. Shame on Kendall for doing what she did to him and I hope you will grow up and just love people. And SHAME ON PLUMBS.

  • Mary Vaughan Baird

    Will Fred’s accuser be in court too? I hope he/she is not a local and I have known Fred for over 50 years and all that person had to do was tell Fred they were uncomfortable and he would have apologized and said have a nice day!

    • Caley

      I am in Iowa, so i can’t be there, but everyone who can be, should be at his hearing, to show the court, the community is behind him and the charges should be dropped. Don’t stick up for him on here, stick up for him in person and protect, picket, make the media work for us in this case!!!!

  • Elizabeth Beebe

    I have shopped at Plumbs since 1956 when I was first married. But you know I will not shop there any more until Fred is brought back. Fred is a sweet ,loving, caring individual. Always helpful and cheerful. A wonderful Christian man. Get him back!

  • sherri

    What a really good way to spend some more of my hard earned tax dollars to try a case like this is ridiculous, but hey the gang banger down the road that just robbed or raped someone will be let out early to make room for a serious hugging offense . Sounds like justice to me NOT!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    I never complained to management or to law enforcement or told anyone until now, and because there are people out there actually going to the absurd and frightening extreme of threatening the victim in this case with violence and death, I will retain my anonymity, but I, too, experienced very inappropriate touching from Fred. So much so that I stopped shopping at the store. Pulling me close, and holding me tightly, chest to chest, nuzzling my neck, stroking me and whispering things in my ear, and following me around the store to repeat the behavior is not the simple “arm around the shoulder” hug that’s being reported. His behavior was imposed on me without the time for objection and was completely inappropriate. I’m a hugger myself and I know the difference between a friendly hug and a grope. I bet I and the victim who reported Fred are not the only ones. I bet there are other women who, in light of the fervent support for Fred, are afraid to come forward. I’m sure my comment here will now be bashed by those same vulgar and violent people who are inclined to victimize victims, but may I encourage every reasonable and objective person still out there to base their judgment on all the facts, and not on a one-sided story by FOX 17.

    • Terri Black

      Anon: I am sorry to hear what you had to say. Too bad it seems most are not listening. This is known as the lynch mob mentality. People get together and before ALL THE FACTS ARE IN, unite against any as seen as the enemy. So many times have I heard people say “Well, he was nice to ME, therefore he must be innocent”. Like disturbed people don’t hide their activities. Every convicted rapist and every convicted serial killer was very “nice” to people in their neighborhood. Just because someone was “nice” to you doesn’t mean they don’t have a sick side.
      People are dumb in crowds, and are not to be trusted, sadly. They egg each other on, and give each leave to do things they wouldn’t normally do alone.
      This is why many victims don’t come forward, especially if the accused is well liked.

      I will praying for the TRUTH to come out. If this man is entirely innocent, or secretly perving on SOME women, may our heavenly Father shine LIGHT and TRUTH upon this matter, in Jesus’s holy name, I pray.

        • SO Sad...

          Terri & Liz…I totally agree with you. It saddens me to know that this small town mentality wont even CONSIDER or remember there are always TWO sides to this story. I am hoping they eat their words when the video is put out there (as THAT’S what made the prosecutors arrest him after the allegation). I have had numerous family/friends tell me directly about his behavior and constant lingering on women, touching, whispering etc. It has made myself and others avoid him. Sad, as I am nurturing/hugging type of person…but in NO way expect to be approached in THAT manner by a man I see in a store…seeing him over time does not EQUAL my friend whom I share my personal space nor want to be touched in any way. I go there for a reason….groceries. I should never be in a position to ASK someone to NOT touch me, or tell him I prefer NOT to be hugged? Its a grocery store. Let him LOVE on his friends. Its difficult in our society to raise children to respect others space and explain about strangers, touching, etc. Having to go into a grocery store and JUSTIFY his odd/eery behavior to a child that’s questioning his lack of respect for THAT space is NOT what should be occurring in a store! I am sorry that Whitehall people have made it to where victims can NOT speak out with out being vilified. And people wonder why rape victims don’t report? Look at this case…One person gives others the courage to do the same..and they are SLANDERED beyond words. The way the report was set up to read “FIRED FOR A HUG” minimizes the incident, makes light of OTHER reports/complaints and Plumbs had NO choice – based on the their public statement that “He chose to disregard the rules, and couldn’t keep his hands to himself” left his employer no other choice. Seniority, race, religion etc. should have NO bearing on this case.

    • D Ellis

      The accuser could have just said to this employee please, I don’t like to be hugged and that would be the end of it? There must be some more to this story it does not make sense. I as a owner would rather lose one customer that does not like to be hugged than lose a great employee and his many happy customers too

      • anonymous

        Fred was told.

        He didn’t care.

        He was given a final warning after a disciplinary action that happened years ago. This is not new.

        So, it would not have mattered.

        What is sad to me is that I truly don’t think Fred understands about boundaries because he has a disability.

        He needed to be taught.

        Now look what happened.

        I feel for Fred, but the store had no choice.

        He did not respect another’s No.

        How is that caring, when you make other people uncomfortable and then vilify them?

    • JennyJustice

      Why didn’t you just tell him to stop? I haven’t threatened anyone with violence or death. I simply question a person’s motives who allows this to happen repeatedly. You can stop it right there in that moment. There is a man at my mom’s church who everyone thinks is the nicest man ever, but I get a skeevy vibe from him. He hugged me at a Thanksgiving dinner at their church and held on too long, and actually rubbed my side. I pulled away rather quickly and gave him the evil eye. He never did it again. It’s your body. Why would you allow someone to continually violate your comfort zone?

      • Rachel Bravo

        Just because you tell someone no, doesn’t mean they listen. Especially someone who thinks they have the best intentions. He is old enough that he is from an era where some men were taught they know better and he could be totally dismissing anyone who tells him no. Or, he’s really a pervert in sheep’s clothing and is ignoring them on purpose. Also, not everyone is capable of speaking up for themselves. I have a female relative who is highly functioning autistic. She would have a very hard time (if not impossible) verbally saying no to someone who just came up to her and hugged her without permission, she would most likely just freeze. However, she would feel MORE assaulted than if they had punched or slapped her. If there were repeat offenses that he was talked to about then he should have been fired. I don’t personally think one unsolicited shoulder hug is something to take him to court or arrest him over, but it certainly sounds like there is more to this story than that.

  • dean

    Fred has always been a part of the Whitehall area, if you never met him you have missed out on a truly good person. He brings out a smile you need, on a bad day. You just need to realize that.

  • Steve

    People fail to realize that he honestly wasn’t fired for a “hug”. This is a repeat offender who is looking for sympathy but doesn’t deserve it. Follow this closely…I bet it ends in favor of the store.

  • John Dawson

    Methinks that it would not be good for Fred to be re employed by this company.. They do not deserve the custom that this would likely bring…Better that another store employ this exemplary human being they will be the ones to reap the rewards of such a smart move….Here in Australia service is at an all time low, c’mon Fred move to Australia we need such as you here.

    • tl

      Normally, I wouldn’t post something so rude but that was an incredibly ignorant statement. (please notice I said the statement was ignorant – Not you) What you are saying is like saying someone that’s been raped only has herself/himself to blame. You haven’t heard this woman’s side of the story so you really don’t know what happened to cause her to complain. You only know what this guy is saying happened. And really, if you did something wrong would you admit it on television. I don’t think so.

  • Joy

    Just because someone LIKES the Facebook page doesn’t mean they AGREE with it. It is used to help keep people updated and to bookmark it.

    I personally think the dude needs help. He looks looks, sounds, and acts like a pervert to me.

    • Alacat

      So you are an expert on “perverts”? Looks like you go around with a label gun to slap on anyone you don’t like. Where are your credentials to show you have the right to label anyone a “pervert”?? Get a grip. A person’s body is their own property and you should have the respect for yourself to stand up and say to stop if you are uncomfortable with any actions toward you. Telling someone who offers a hug to please stop is not grounds to file criminal charges.

  • Ang

    This is so annoying. All of these comments are annoying. No one should ever touch anyone else without their permission. He got fired. People get fired every day for less of a reason than this. Get over it. If you don’t like that Plumb’s values the SAFETY and COMFORT of their customers, then you should shop elsewhere.

  • burtward

    That person who filed the complaint needs to really feel what a criminal assault truly is. Maybe someone in that town can give them a good education about it.

  • anonymous

    I decided to post this anonymously due to all the “caring” haters who cannot accept or be respectful of another’s point of view.

    Let alone their right to feel and be safe from unwanted touching or attention.

    Several people have come forward to say they felt uncomfortable. What about them?

    Only certain people in that town count?

    He was reprimanded for inappropriate touching in the past.

    People who violate others continually and then still stand by their own views that they have the right, perhaps do need a judge to express upon them that touching another without their consent is a crime.

    It is about violating boundaries. We do not walk into another’s home without PERMISSION. We do not touch others without PERMISSION.

    It happened more than once.

    He was warned.

    He should not be working with the public if he does not understand appropriate behavior.

    • anonymous

      I am the anonymous poster that just replied here.

      This is the first I have heard that Fred suffered from a disability.

      I read it elsewhere.

      I feel really bad for him because he needed the services of a job coach or for his community to explain to him that it is only alright to hug or touch people with their consent or permission.

      TO just do as you want, and disregard the feelings of others is not okay.

      This needed to happen when he was disciplined the first time and given a final warning.

      He needed to be taught this.

      It is really sad.

      My best to all concerned.

  • Minerva

    A store employee hugging people including women, many of whom do not want his advances— after he has been forn mall warned to stop by his employer? Utterly unacceptable. If this were a black man forcing hugs on women he’d be in jail,or worse, right now.

  • Ben

    I wonder if he lost his pension as a result of this? No other business will hire him as a result. Keeping your hands to yourself means that, keeping your hands to yourself.