An Arlington woman has filed suit against a Seven Corners sporting goods store, claiming a store employe forced her to prove she was pregnant because he thought she was shoplifting a basketball.
Betsy J. Nelson, 33, who was nine months pregnant when she went shopping at Irving's Sport Shop last February, is seeking $100,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages from the store, charging false arrest and negligence on the part of store employes, according to a suit filed in Arlington Circuit Court last week.
"If you've lived in the world and you're over 15 years old, you know what a pregnant woman looks like," Stephen P. McCarron, Nelson's attorney, said yesterday. "It's incredible that it all happened."
Two store employes, McCarron said, didn't believe that Nelson -- who gave birth to a healthy son, Darius, the day after the Feb. 13 incident -- was pregnant.
At one point in the incident, with police officers, the assistant store manager and the mall's security guard looking on, Nelson was asked to shake out her maternity dress "to show that nothing would fall out," McCarron said.
"They made me take off some of my garments to clearly show I had nothing concealed underneath -- no basketball. I had to shake out my maternity top," Nelson said last night. "It was just a terrible incident. It was very embarrassing to say the least, something I just wish never would happen to anybody."
"She was given the impression she would be taken to jail if she didn't do it," McCarron said. "She did it . . . but she said it was embarrassing . . . . She started to cry. She was very upset, very distraught."
The store's manager, who was not involved in the incident, declined comment on the suit yesterday and referred inquiries to the chain store's Springfield-based executives, who could not be reached for comment.
McCarron said Nelson and a friend, Dallas Johnson, who also is a plaintiff in the suit, went into the store to look at a rowing machine she wanted to use to get back in shape after her pregnancy.
Not finding what she wanted, they left the store to browse around the mall, but were stopped by the store's assistant manager, Richard Hoye, and a mall security guard, McCarron said.
Hoye had been alerted to the alleged shoplifting by store cashier Susan Kittleman, the lawyer said.
The two men asked Nelson to return to the store, and Hoye accused her "of concealing something under her dress," McCarron said. "She said, 'You're accusing me of shoplifting. I didn't take anything. I want the police. This is outrageous.' "
The employes, McCarron said, summoned Fairfax County police and told them that "when she entered the store she did not appear to be pregnant and when she left the store, she appeared to be very pregnant and was holding her arms across her abdomen."
It was then that she was asked to prove she was pregnant, according to McCarron.
Everyone but Hoye agreed that Nelson was pregnant, McCarron said. She left the store after being detained for about 30 minutes, McCarron said. He said that she was not arrested and that Hoye apologized to her before she left.
In her suit, which seeks a jury trial, Nelson said she suffered "great mental pain and suffering, insult, indignity, humiliation and serious emotional harm." Johnson, Nelson's shopping companion, is listed as a plaintiff because, McCarron said, "If they had found something, he would have been arrested too for aiding and abetting . . . . [plus] the humiliation of being accused in public of shoplifting."