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A group of former Wal-Mart Stores employees filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the retail giant in U.S. District Court, claiming they were wrongfully terminated from their jobs at Utah stores for stopping shoplifters and interfering with unruly customers.

Utahns Lori Poulsen, Shawn Ray, Gabriel Stewart, James Dallin, Derek Holt and Eric Hunter are suing the Bentonville, Ark.-based company for firing them and are seeking at least $75,000 in damages.

The lawsuit stems from incidents at three stores in which the employees took action against customers who were behaving violently.

Poulsen, Ray and Stewart were involved in a Jan. 13 incident at the Layton Walmart Supercenter, where they disarmed a man with a gun who tried to steal a laptop computer.

The thief, Trent Allen Longton, 25, was taken to an office, where he pulled out a gun, placed it on the side of his leg and cocked it.

Longton then stood behind assistant manager Stewart and grabbed his shoulder. Security workers Ray and Justin Richins each grabbed Longton by an arm and spun him around. Poulsen then took the gun away.

A week later, the four employees were fired due to "an inability to perform their jobs" and for violating company policy.

A Wal-Mart spokesman in February said the company bans employees from using force to interfere with shoplifters as a safety precaution for everyone.

"Like most companies, we have policies and procedures in place that are designed to ensure the safety of our asset-protection associates, store associates and our customers," said Dan Fogleman. "Nothing is more important than our ability to protect our customers' and associates' safety and well-being. We always want to avoid having a situation escalate that could result in someone getting hurt."

Longton later pleaded guilty in Farmington's 2nd District Court to second-degree felony robbery and class A misdemeanor unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon, but he has yet to be sentenced.

In Dallin's case, he saw a Walmart customer push a female employee from the back, grab her and start yelling obscenities on Nov. 26, according to the complaint.

Dallin, who had been told the employee had previously been abused by her spouse, separated the pair, then escorted the customer from the store, the complaint states. Dallin was fired for "gross misconduct" and violating Wal-Mart's workplace-violence policy.

In the case of Hunter and Holt, they stopped a shoplifter leaving a West Valley City store with a stolen black sweatsuit, rubber gloves and a flashlight on Dec. 24. The woman pulled out a knife and screamed, "I'm going to stab you," according to the complaint.

Holt and Hunter held her arms while another customer took the knife. The two employees were fired in January.

Wal-Mart denied the allegations in a response filed this week in federal court.

mrogers@sltrib.comTwitter: @mrogers_trib

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