On Monday, Springfield PetSmart employee Shaunna Kirk was terminated by local management for her continued refusal to change out of a face mask featuring the Black Lives Matter rallying cry “I Can’t Breathe” emblazoned across the front.
By Wednesday, as The State Journal-Register reported an account of Kirk’s situation, the Phoenix-based company apparently changed course, telling Kirk she was not fired and that they were “prepared to take all actions necessary to address the situation in alignment with our values as a company.”
“Ms. Kirk is a valued associate at PetSmart, and we remain committed to resolving this matter with her,” the company wrote in a statement Friday. “Our leadership has apologized directly to Ms. Kirk, and we are continuing communication with her regarding the appropriate next steps.”
The conversation started Wednesday and went further in-depth Friday as Kirk and her attorney spoke with Jason McAttee, senior vice president of retail operations for PetSmart’s east region.
“He was just telling me that he was in support and that my life mattered and that he wanted me to be comfortable with PetSmart, which I want to be comfortable with PetSmart too. … hopefully we can reach a resolution,” Kirk said.
Bill Vig, Kirk’s attorney, said what happened to her was “obviously really wrong and frustrating,” but that conversations are continuing to resolve the situation.
“I think that today was the first time that Shaunna finally felt like there was some serious attempts by PetSmart to acknowledge what happened, that what happened is wrong and that it needs to be addressed,” Vig said. “But we’re going to have further discussions with them next week.”
Kirk’s mask became an issue with store management despite the fact that the company took a public stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death while in custody of Minneapolis police officers.
Company CEO J.K. Symancyk, in a message published on the pet store giant’s website, said at the time that they must all commit to “standing with our Black associates and communities, to taking meaningful action, to being held accountable, and saying what we must until it is no longer necessary: Black Lives Matter.”
To that end, the company has started a scholarship fund for associates of color and enhanced recruiting to improve Black representation within the company.
But the phrase in question — more than others — has become a rallying cry against police brutality and institutional racism. It has been featured prominently in the past few months during the Floyd protests.
PetSmart declined to specify the company’s policy regarding face coverings. But, Kirk said if the company was going to talk the talk on issues of race, it has to walk the walk.
“In corporate America you cannot just say one thing and do another,” Kirk said. “You also have to follow a policy. So this is definitely a policy issue.”
Kirk, who is still a PetSmart employee but not working while the issue gets resolved, said she was not trying to make a political statement with her mask.
“I can’t breathe. It’s not political,” Kirk said. “In my opinion, it is the last three words of a lot of people. And that’s that’s where we are.”
Contact Brenden Moore: 788-1526, [email protected], twitter.com/brendenmoore13.
*A previous version of this article misspelled attorney Bill Vig’s last name. The article has been updated with the correct spelling.