PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — A convenience store clerk who was fired recently for refusing to sell cigarettes to a customer trying to pay for them with state welfare benefits has been fired, but her story has gained traction in local and national media.
According to press reports, Jackie Whiton was working at a C.N. Brown Big Apple convenience store recently when a man in his 20s attempted to purchase cigarettes using an electronic benefit transfer card, which is issued to families in New Hampshire and Maine who are on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF program. Whiton, a six-year employee of the store, refused to sell the man the cigarettes.
“I told him he couldn’t buy them with the card and he said ‘yes he could,’” Whiton told the Union Leader newspaper in New Hampshire. The man’s foster mother returned to the store the next day to complain and Whiton again refused to accept the EBT card as payment for cigarettes. She was fired by the company the next day.
The story about Whiton was published by scores of local and national media outlets over the past couple of days.
According to New Hampshire officials, there are few restrictions on how a EBT card can be used, but they can’t be used at liquor stores. C.N. Brown, the Maine-based company that owns the store Whiton worked at along with 77 others, said in a statement Thursday that it was notified by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services that it needed to comply with policy or risk being terminated from the program.
“Our employees cannot impose their own personal biases over these products and make decisions about what will and will not be sold to individual customers,” said C.N. Brown general manager Chick Wilkins. “Each of our more than 800 employees may have individual opinions about many of the products sold in our stores — tobacco, wine, beer, condoms, high-calorie products — but these products must be made equally available to all eligible purchasers.”
Wilkins said Whiton was given the opportunity to keep her job if she would adhere to company and state policy.
“Unfortunately she declined to comply, and we had no choice but to let her go for violation of company policy,” Wilkins said in a press release.