Wal-Mart Caves to the Pressure

THIS JUST IN…Tuesday afternoon, April 1 (and no, not an April Fool’s joke).

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP)—Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) is dropping a controversial effort to collect more than $400,000 in health-care reimbursement from a former employee who suffered brain damage in a traffic accident.

The world’s largest retailer said in a letter to the family of Deborah Shank it will not seek to collect money the Shanks won in an injury lawsuit against a trucking company for the accident.

Wal-Mart’s top executive for human resources, Pat Curran, wrote that Shank’s extraordinary situation had made the company re-examine the situation. Deborah’s husband Jim Shank welcomed the news.His lawyer said Wal-Mart deserves credit for doing the right thing.

Wal-Mart has been roundly criticized in newspaper editorials, on cable news shows and by union foes for its claim to the funds, which it made in a lawsuit upheld by a federal appeals court.

This AP report says that the company re-examined its stance because of the “Shank’s extraordinary situation.” Or could it be that they responded more to a full week of withering outrage from customers and the media?

Has the leopard changed its spots? Just yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department filed suit against Wal-Mart on behalf of former Air Force airman Sean Thornton, after Wal-Mart refused to give him his job back after his military service, as they are required to do by law.

It appears that Wal-Mart continues its established pattern of doing the right thing only when compelled to do so either by law or public pressure. But of course, for the Shanks’ sake, I’m delighted at this outcome.

In his own statement to the press, Jim Shank said:

“It wasn’t me who made this happen, it was the outcry of the people, and if there’s a lesson in this story it’s that ‘we the people’ still means something.”

Despite my own suspicion that Wal-Mart changed its position for the same reason it staked out its original one—protecting its profits—my own decision in light of the Debbie Shank case will not be changing. I suspect the same will be true of countless other former Wal-Mart customers.

I’m actually enjoying the process of expanding my shopping options—and discovering that other large discounters compare quite favorably with Wal-Mart in price—and win hands-down when it comes to better service and cleaner stores.

One thing I’m sure of, based on matters of faith: When the law is on the inside of us—”written on our hearts,” as the Bible says—we don’t need outside force to do the right thing.


One response to this post.

  1. So there. You told Walmart where to go, and they went.

    Of course they’re the only business in the USA that looks after its bottom line. They’re the only business that will reverse an unfortunate decision.

    I doubt if the Walmart executives meet every Monday morning to decide what evil things they will do that week.

    I believe they are so big and have so many employees and even more customers that their drive to offer low-cost merchandise simply can’t be done without raising cries of protest from one sector or another.

    This time it was their enactment of an insurance clause that I understand is very common in the employment contracts of thousands of businesses. They were one of the few (but not the only one) that enacted that provision and followed through. Just as with almost any other business in this land of the free, when public pressure mounts against something they’ve done, they change what they’re doing.

    I don’t think this makes them more or less evil. Ascribing motives and feelings of evil people to a business seems to me to be short-sighted. In the end it’s the marketplace that decides what is the best bargain.

    At the Walmart near where I live, the store is clean, the employees are cheerful and helpful, and the prices are great. I should boycott them because they enforced a clause in their employment contract and then reversed it because of public opinion? Nah. I don’t love Walmart, but I don’t see them as evil. Market-driven, cost-cutting, but not evil.


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