Target’s Walk of Shame Results in Man’s Suicide: When Workplace Punishments Go Too Far

When it comes to keeping employees in line, some organizations cross one between friendly reminders and humiliating malice.

Walk of Shame

For Minneapolis-based big box retailer Target, a high turnover of low paid employees spells a perfect storm of lackadaisical and pilfering staff. This has led a number of store managers to find new ways to remind the workforce of the rules.

One such practice is the “walk of shame”, where employees suspected of theft and other infractions are greeted at work by police, handcuffed, and marched through the store to send a clear message to colleagues and customers that disobedience carries consequences. Although Target says this is not part of their company policy, Business Insider recently rounded up a handful of employees from a number of different locations who corroborate that the practice is “widespread”.

For a long time this behavior may have fallen into the grey area of “no harm, no foul”. In 2014 however, a 22-year-old Target cashier who was on the receiving end of this humiliating ordeal was driven to suicide, calling into question the value of making examples out of staff.


Graham Gentles, Target cashier who took his own life after being subjected to humiliating “walk of shame”.

The victim, Graham Gentles, suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, which caused him to be hyper-focused on the details of the experience, which included being forcibly detained by police, questioned, and taken to the police department. Gentles was ultimately never charged. When he returned home he told his mother “this is the worst day of my life,” and after three days of suffering severe emotional distress, he took his own life. Gentles’ mother has since filed a lawsuit again Target, claiming false imprisonment and wrongful death.

Highway and Diesel Therapy

Another common way organizations discipline unruly employees is by decreasing their status and increasing their commute. Nicknamed “highway therapy”, the practice is commonly used by the New York Police Department in cases ranging from AWOL officers to whistleblowers.


NYPD Sergeant Robert Borrelli was subjected to “highway therapy” after blowing the whistle on colleagues incorrectly classifying crimes.

This punishment also carries financial burdens. Being posted further from home doesn’t just add unpaid commuting time, it can also bring increased toll costs – adding $35 a day in one officer’s case.

Excessively long transportation also has a long history in prisons. Disruptive inmates are often tortured through “diesel therapy” – being shackled and thrown on buses and planes without being told how long they will be traveling or what their destination will be.

Lake Crawl

In a truly excessive display of workplace hierarchy and abuse of power, employees of an unnamed Chinese company were punished last Fall for missing sales targets by being ordered to crawl on their hands and knees around a 23-acre lagoon in the center of Zhengzhou.


Chinese employees forced to crawl on hands and knees after missing sales targets.

The incident made worldwide headlines after eyewitnesses posted pictures of the humiliating trek to Chinese social network Weibo. Adding insult to literal injury, the ordeal took place during a week-long national holiday, and a supervisor was on site to make sure everyone completed the lap.

If you or someone you know has been subjected to unreasonable treatment at work, contact your local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. They will help you understand your rights as an employee and what options you have to remedy an abusive workplace.

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