Mike Mozart/flickr

A Walmart employee in Albany, NY, said he was fired after recycling empty bottles and cans at the store he worked at for $5.10, the Albany Times-Union reports.

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Thomas Smith, 52, a recent parolee who had spent four months homeless, was fired from his $9-an-hour job gathering shopping carts after security cameras captured him cashing in the refuse. A store manager deemed Smith's actions tantamount to theft, the Times-Union reports.

"I didn't know you couldn't take empties left behind. They were garbage," Smith told the paper. "I didn't even get a chance to explain myself. They told me to turn in my badge."

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In a statement to CBS 6 Albany, Aaron Mullins, Senior Manager for Walmart Media Relations said, “Mr. Smith was terminated due to theft inside of the store and has signed a statement admitting to the crime.”

Smith was still on probation at the time he was fired from Walmart, and was just a few weeks from earning a 10% employee discount and other benefits.

His case has been taken up by Albany's Center for Law and Justice. Alice Green, the center's director, said Smith was told that a white store manager (Smith is black) was caught stealing $20 from a cash register and was allowed to keep her job after she returned the money. "It raised issues of race and gender," Green told the Times-Union.

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Update: Walmart clarified to Grondhal Friday that Smith was fired for redeeming $2-worth of cans and bottles left in a shopping cart, a few yards off the parking lot, just inside the store's entryway.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.