Friday, October 30, 2020

Lawyer accuses Walmart of wrongful termination for exposing bribery activities

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A former in-house lawyer for Walmart Inc. has accused the retail giant of drumming up false claims of child abuse and inappropriate workplace conduct to undermine his work investigating bribery allegations in Mexico.

The claims by Shane Perry, a former Walmart ethics officer, are part of a wrongful termination lawsuit he filed last week in Arkansas state court.

In the complaint, Mr Perry says he was pressured to change a memo on his findings on allegations that Walmart had violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an antibribery law, in its efforts to rapidly expand in Mexico.

Walmart, however, said the corporate lawyer was fired in 2017 for violating company policies.

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“Mr Perry’s termination was due to violation of our ethics, discrimination and harassment policies and had nothing to do with his work on our seven-year FCPA Investigation,” a Walmart spokesperson said in a statement.

In his complaint, Mr Perry accused the company of manufacturing reasons for his termination. Neither Mr. Perry nor his lawyer responded to a request for further comment.

The lawsuit was first reported by the Arkansas Times, a local weekly newspaper.

Walmart last year agreed to pay $282 million to resolve a yearslong investigation by U.S. authorities into the bribery allegations, which became public as a result of a 2012 New York Times investigation. The probe into the company had later expanded to its operations in other countries, including Brazil, China and India.

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Mr. Perry was sent to Mexico in 2011 to look into the allegations, according to his complaint. After a four-day investigation, he wrote a memo to Walmart’s senior management summarizing his findings.

He received no response, and no word was mentioned to Mr Perry about his findings until five years later, he said.

The memo later became a topic of discussion between Walmart’s lawyers and U.S. authorities, his complaint said. In 2017, he was asked to submit to an interview on the content of his memo. He agreed, and within 24 hours was interviewed twice by five lawyers on Walmart’s defense team.

“Mr. Perry felt intimidated and threatened, even as a lawyer,” the complaint said. “Perry refused to make changes in the memo.”

The tension later escalated into a retaliatory campaign to get him fired, he claimed.

In his complaint, Mr Perry accuses Walmart of attempting to dig up complaints and allegations that could serve as the basis to fire him and undermine his credibility.

Associates under Mr. Perry’s supervision were interviewed about his conduct, he said. One, a single mother whom Mr Perry had previously been asked to fire, reported him for inappropriate misconduct, his complaint said. It alleged that her claim was a pre-emptive move to save her job and that Mr Perry’s attention was an effort to help her improve her job performance.

A conversation with a co-worker on parenting also became fodder for Mr Perry’s termination, his complaint alleged. In the conversation, Mr Perry related an incident from years earlier in which he had used corporal punishment on two of his children after they lied about their use of a new tablet.

According to Mr Perry’s complaint, Walmart’s report on him said he had lost control and beaten one of his children. A female employee later described her interview with Walmart’s internal investigative team as a “witch hunt,” the complaint said.

On the same day, he was fired, Walmart reported him to state authorities for felony child abuse. Local authorities later closed their investigation into the matter without taking action, while the local prosecutor declined to pursue the case, Mr Perry said.

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