AUBURN — A local lawyer said Thursday she is representing several fired L.L. Bean workers who lost their jobs earlier this week after buying a leather tote bag that was discounted due to an online pricing error.
Rebecca Webber said she was still investigating the terminations, but believed the number of fired workers likely is a much larger group than "less than a handful," as characterized by a company spokeswoman earlier in the week.
Webber said she was concerned the company may have defamed the fired workers.
Although the people Webber has talked to are all women, older than 40 and longtime employees, she said she hadn't yet learned the demographics of all of the fired workers.
"My understanding is that everybody who made an order of this product who was an L.L. Bean employee was terminated," she said.
A spokeswoman at L.L. Bean could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The product in question, a woven leather tote bag, originally priced at $169, was marked down to $19 for roughly two days earlier this month. Customers started calling customer service representatives to order the item. Some of the workers who fielded the incoming calls and placed the outside customers' orders, in turn, called the company's online service to place orders of their own because the price was so attractive.
"It just was a snowball effect," one of the fired workers said.
Word got out about the apparent-sale item and others put in orders until the item was flagged and the price corrected.
About a week after placing their orders for the bag, they were investigated for fraud within the company, fired workers told the Sun Journal.
"We were never trained to question the price," said one of the fired workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We were always told to trust the system, trust the system."
An item on the company's website Thursday showed a sale price of one item 70 percent off, she said.
"How are employees supposed to judge if this is right?" she said. "It wasn't the fact that we were being conniving or we were stealing or whatever, it was the fact that something was on sale and we said, 'Hey, this is a good deal. Let's get it.'"
Another of the fired workers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said significant markdowns on merchandise that's being liquidated or is outdated are nothing new. "It happens all the time," she said. "We have no idea what's going to be put on clearance."
All of the employees' orders were put on hold, then canceled.
Workers who bought the bags were summoned to an office, led to a room and questioned at length by company fraud investigators, the former workers said.
"We were treated like we were criminals. ... As far as we know, we didn't do anything wrong," one former worker said.
The company's investigation continued for at least a week. The workers were then put on paid administrative leave.
A week later, they were called in one at a time and fired.
"The next day it was hard to look in the mirror," one fired worker said. "I felt horrible about myself."
Workers still on the payroll are afraid to buy anything on sale for fear of being accused of employee misconduct, a former worker said.
"It just doesn't make sense," she said.