(CNN) — For some, a Twix bar is the delicious chocolate-caramel candy with a cookie crunch. But for Robert McKevitt, a Twix cost him his job and, he says, his house and girlfriend.
On October 22, McKevitt, a veteran, was working his shift as a forklift operator at Polaris Industries’ plant in Milford, Iowa. It was a temp job that he had secured thanks, in part, to a government program that gives companies tax credits for hiring veterans.
McKevitt, 27, toured Kosovo and Afghanistan as part of the Army National Guard.
“It was about halfway into my shift and I had a few extra minutes. I was going to the restroom and the vending machine was next to it,” McKevitt told CNN by phone from his brother’s home in Spirit Lake, Iowa. “I was going to grab a candy bar and then go to the restroom.”
McKevitt said Thursday he was riding his forklift and as he approached the restroom he noticed the vending machine was a few feet from the wall.
“I thought it was a safety hazard,” he said. “I don’t know why I decided I wanted a candy bar, but I did. So I put in a dollar and it spun like it was going to give out the candy bar, but it didn’t. It got hung up on the spiral thing that ejects the candy bar.”
What happened next is a matter of debate between McKevitt, Polaris Industries and a judge.
According to a legal decision filed by an administrative judge with Iowa Workforce Development, McKevitt was involved in “misconduct.”
The document, the result of an unemployment claim appeal filed by McKevitt, contains a statement from a Polaris representative saying that McKevitt “was observed by a supervisor lifting a candy machine about one to two feet off the ground with a forklift and then dropping the machine to the ground, which he repeated fix or six times.”
“When confronted,” it reads, “he had gotten about three candy bars out of the machine, and he claimed he had only shaken the machine to get out the candy bars that he had paid for that had not dropped on their own. As a result of this conduct, the employer discharged the claimant.”
Though he was fired in October, and the judge denied his unemployment claim in December, the Des Moines Register covered McKevitt’s story Wednesday, pushing it into national headlines.
McKevitt told CNN his version of what happened after the Twix got stuck.
“I tried shaking it by hand, but it didn’t do anything. Then I tried putting in another dollar and nothing happened. I could see the candy bar dangling and I was already having a rough day. My girlfriend was nine months’ pregnant and it was rough,” recalled McKevitt.
“I shook the machine and the candy bar dropped so I was happy about that. But then I was upset that I had spent two dollars on a 90-cent candy bar,” he said. “Then I took it upon myself to move the machine back with the forklift.”
At this point, McKevitt said, a supervisor showed up and assumed the worst.
“It may have looked like I was stealing candy bars, but the machine stole money from me,” he said.
The next day, according to McKevitt, he met with human resources and his supervisors to discuss the incident and a day later he was suspended, pending an investigation.
“I was fired two days after my daughter … was born,” he said.
After he was fired, the financial stress proved too much for McKevitt. His relationship with the mother of his daughter ended and, unable to make rent payments, McKevitt moved out of his house and in with his brother.
McKevitt filed for unemployment, which Polaris denied.
“At that point I realized no one was going to hear my part of the story,” said McKevitt, who filed an appeal with Iowa Workforce Development, including a 17-page letter detailing his side of the story.
But, as bad luck would have it, McKevitt says he never got the notice for his hearing, so he skipped it. Only after his benefits were denied in appeal did he realize he had missed his chance to set the record straight.
“I had to take a job at Walmart making about half of what I was making at Polaris. I’m making just under $9 an hour and before I was making about $16 an hour,” McKevitt said. “This issue was blown way out of proportion.”
By Mayra Cuevas