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Don't be Evil Wal-mart

Carmen Hughes

googleimages.jpg Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine wrote an excellent post today about Wal-mart's recent bad PR move. In the recent legal suit Wal-mart won against a former employee, who now has brain damage due to an auto accident, Jarvis' perspective is right on point with respect to Wal-mart's doozey of a move here. This is a case that underscores how sometimes company management should disregard their lawyers' advice and seriously weigh the cost/benefits of an action that has all the promise of a PR calamity--all for a few dollars. As the world's leading retailer, Wal-mart earns around 11.25 billion in profits. You'd think that this is a company that can afford to forgo persecuting a former employee, dragging her to court, and taking the only funds she won in the accident lawsuit that was earmarked to care for her. A big whopping $275,000. (They originally asked for almost twice as much but the judge decided against their request.)

My guess here is that their PR firm, Edleman, did in fact counsel Wal-mart against pursuing this legal suit, but this is also a huge assumption that Walmart and its team of lawyers even kept Edleman in the loop with their decision to pursue this suit. Wal-mart's bad judgment to wring the few dollars from a physically and mentally-impaired, former employee is frankly outrageous. (By the way, Ms. Shank also lost her 18-year old son, a soldier, in the Iraq war.)

Evidently, the public outrage to the story of Debbie Shank now has come back to bite Wal-mart and they are back-peddling. After taking Ms. Shank to court in several rounds and more than 3 years to win the measly $275,000 award, the world's biggest retailer is considering holding off on taking the money after all.

My goodness, the long-term damage the company has done to itself, future sales and profits, and any remaining company goodwill--- all with their focus on an extra dollar exemplifies cutting off your nose to spite your face. As Jarvis points out in his post, Wal-mart should have borrowed a page from Google's corporate mantra of "don't be evil."