Ralphs employees fired for selling alcohol to Pepperdine students

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Two longtime cashiers lose their livelihoods after selling alcohol to two underage, and one 21-year-old Pepperdine student, who had fake IDs.

By David Wallace/Special to The Malibu

It was a normal, busy Saturday evening at Ralphs on Nov. 23, the weekend before Thanksgiving, when the world fell in on two longtime employees: cashiers Harry McDermott, a veteran of 25 years with the company and the father of three, and Nancy Cicatelli, a Corral Canyon resident who has been with the store eight years.

About 8:30 p.m., three Pepperdine University students got in line at Ralphs’ checkout-two in Nancy’s and the other in Harry’s-and bought a bottle of wine and two 12-packs of Miller beer. Although they looked young, neither McDermott nor Cicatelli asked for their IDs.

“These kids came in at least twice or three times a week to buy beer,” Cicatelli said. “We had carded each of them dozens of times before, but didn’t this time because we knew them and it was busy.”

The oversight was fatal to the cashiers’ careers; unknown to both, following the boys in each line were investigators from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). After establishing that two of the three boys were underage (19 and 20-the third was 21), the underage youths and the clerks were cited for breaking the law. The reason the 21-year old didn’t legally buy all the alcohol, according to Cicatelli, was because each wanted to use their own credit card.

The boys, presumably, returned to their academic lives and, according to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), will be prosecuted for what they did. But, in accordance with Ralphs’ zero-tolerance policy in such situations, both Cicatelli and McDermott were immediately fired.

“It’s just a glitch on their records,” Cicatelli said bitterly of the students. “But for us, it’s lifestyle-changing.”

Both have filed grievances with Local 1442 of the Retail Clerks’ Union.

Ralphs said they should have known better. In fact, the store’s assistant manager, Mary Dobrucki, said all cashiers sign a document twice a year acknowledging that they know they are subject to termination if caught selling alcohol to minors.

“Zero-tolerance has been our universal policy for the past couple years,” said Terry O’Neill, Ralphs public relations director. “We’ve gotten tougher as the law has gotten tougher. Our cashiers know they are to ask for an ID with every liquor purchase no matter how old the purchaser is, and even the register automatically reminds them to put in an age.” (Fake IDs are, incidentally, readily available for $60-$80).

According to Dobrucki, the policy is especially critical in Malibu because of the presence of some 3,000 students at Pepperdine, and the large number of accidents on PCH, many of them alcohol related. Although sympathetic to the plight of the fired cashiers, she adds, “It’s not a Ralphs thing, it’s a law thing.”

Nevertheless, a companywide policy of Ralphs to pressure cashiers to work as fast as possible may have contributed to the oversight.

“There are monthly computerized evaluations of our checkout times,” Cicatelli said, “and each cashier and store are rated by it.”

Dobrucki believes the ultimate responsibility rests with Pepperdine.

“We want to meet with them,” Dobrucki adds. “They need to get the students to take it seriously. The kids go on like nothing happened.” Cicatelli agrees.

“These kids are drinking a f—— lot. They’re having a field day in Malibu.”

Several store employees also have noted that the students regularly demand that any alcohol purchases be put in brown paper grocery bags so they won’t be noticed when they return to Pepperdine, a Church of Christ-affiliated institution that forbids drinking or possessing alcoholic beverages on campus.

For its part, Pepperdine is doing nothing-yet.

Ed Young, an investigator in the school’s Public Safety Department, said, as the deadline for this story approached and as a call to Dr. Mark Davis, the school’s dean of student affairs, went unanswered: “We’re waiting for a report from the ABC … when we receive that in a few days, we’ll decide what action is appropriate.”

After it was explained to the office of the school’s president that, since two careers had been destroyed through the illegal actions of two Pepperdine students, this seemed a rather indifferent position, Jerry Derloshon, the school’s director of public relations and news responded, “It’s sad for everyone involved. The office of student affairs will investigate it and determine an appropriate action. Part of the ideal of a good university is to help shape character. It’s a shame when any students are involved in a way that doesn’t represent themselves or the institution.”

When asked what the “appropriate action” both parties referred to might be, Derloshon said it was premature to speculate.

Partially in defense of Ralphs position, Edward M. Mimiaga, district administrator of the ABC, said, “We don’t get involved with the employment policies of our licensees who are trying to deal with a problem that is very serious. They have a lot to lose when clerks sell to the underage. (Three violations in three years could cause the loss of their license).

Nancy Cicatelli and Harry McDermott are scheduled to appear on Christmas Eve before a criminal court in Malibu facing fines of $1,000 (the underage students probably will appear in court about the same time). Both are looking for new jobs now.

“I’ve had a really good time working in Malibu, and [have] been through a lot-the fires and earthquakes and floods-with them [the residents],” said McDermott, a resident of Newbury Park near Thousand Oaks. “I think of the people there as my second family. I just want my job back.”