A YouTube star is facing backlash after she disguised herself as a high-ranking Walmart executive and pretended to fire employees at a Texas store as part of a “prank” video.
Lauren Love and her partner, Joel Ashley, run several YouTube channels, including Joel and Lauren TV, which has more than 1.3 million subscribers.
The couple frequently shares innocuous prank videos to the channel with titles like “Beep at this Car Prank” or “Putting Dirt in Wife’s Burger Prank.”
But a video they recorded and posted in April, featuring Love pretending to fire the employees of a Richmond, Texas Walmart, has ruffled feathers, with critics blasting Love for her heartless joke.
In the since-deleted video, titled “CEO Firing People Prank IN THE HOOD (GONE WRONG),” Love puts on a wig and business attire and carries a clipboard as she informs employees that she is the “CEO of this Walmart.”
“I’m in charge today, so I’m firing you. You’re working horrible, you’re moving slow,” she tells one man, who repeatedly tries to explain that he is just doing as he was told as Love demands his badge and vest.
Love eventually removes the man’s clip from his vest before telling him, “I’m just kidding, it’s a prank… You’re doing a great job.”
Love repeats her spiel to multiple employees, including one man who asks for “one more chance,” and to cashier Maria Leones, whom Love approaches as she’s walking around the store’s garden center.
“I don’t appreciate you walking around here,” Love says. “You’re supposed to be at the cashier cashing people out… You can maybe find a different Walmart to work at, but I’m in charge now, and I don’t appreciate the way you’re working… So I’m gonna need to see your badge and your vest.”
Leones grows emotional as she tells Love she’s worked at the store for six years and was even once named the garden employee of the month.
Seeing her tears, Love relents and informs her of the prank, prompting a hug from Leones.
The woman later told NBC affiliate KPRC she was devastated by the incident.
“Really, I was really so crushed. I felt so little, I felt so powerless,” Leones said. “At that very moment, I felt so little, because back home [in the Philippines] I had a very good reputation because I’m a professor.”
Leones told the outlet that as Love “fired” her, she thought only of her husband, who recently underwent a quadruple bypass after a heart attack and relies on Leones’ job to pay his medical bills.
Love concluded her video by saying she felt “so bad” when Leones started crying that she offered the woman $50.
“Hope you guys enjoyed the video. It was honestly hilarious, it turned out really well,” she said.
Walmart, however, wasn’t laughing, as a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to PEOPLE that Love has been banned from their stores.
“This prank is offensive and the people responsible are no longer welcome in our stores. We’ve taken actions on behalf of our associates, including asking YouTube to remove the video and calling their attention to the bullying nature of this hoax,” the statement read. “Our associates work hard every day to serve our customers. They do a fantastic job, deserve better than being subjected to such disrespect, and will continue to have our full support.”
The video received a slew of criticisms on Twitter, including a user who called Love’s actions “trash.”
“I don’t know what happened to someone’s humanity when they think it would be funny to impersonate a CEO, go into a WalMart, and tell people that they’re fired,” the user wrote. “One woman cried because her husband is sick. Lauren Love told her it was a joke and gave her $50. Trash.”
Added another, “My heart bleeds, melts and tears for that poor woman who burst into tears because of Lauren Love’s “Prank.” Can you imagine what it must feel like to hear you’re fired and then think about the fact that you can no longer support your spouse’s medical bills? #NotFunny.”
“YouTube has strict policies that prohibit dangerous or threatening pranks. We quickly remove videos violating our policies when flagged by our users,” a spokesperson for the platform said in a statement to PEOPLE.
Love removed the video on her own accord, according to YouTube, though it did not violate the site’s Community Guidelines, which only ban pranks that could lead to serious physical danger or create serious emotional distress in minors.
Love did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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