Wal-Mart’s Tactful PR Campaign

Wage and hour lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that Wal-Mart’s current veteran outreach program may not be what it seems. Some are speculating that the company is engaging in the program to direct attention away from recent bribery scandals and active discrimination lawsuits.

The New York Times recently revealed Wal-Mart’s plan to hire more than 100,000 veterans over the next five years. The unemployment rate for veterans reached nearly 11% in December 2012, while the rate for non-veterans was nearly 8%. Wal-Mart is now pledging to hire any veteran that needs a job, provided the veteran left military duty within the previous year and did not leave under a dishonorable discharge. This will be one of the country’s largest veteran hiring commitments in history. The program officially begins on Memorial Day, May 27, 2013.

Even the First Lady is urging other corporations to follow in Wal-Mart’s footsteps, but the program is coming under intense scrutiny from officials in other sectors. The Atlantic‘s associate editor Jordan Weissmann wrote that, while it is a commendable effort, the public should not read too much into the program. Weissmann noted that Wal-Mart still pays its workers pretty poorly – the average sales associates making around $8 an hour. Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million Americans, and has an annual turnover rate of about 37%, which means it needs to hire over 500,000 people every year anyway. In this context, hiring 100,000 veterans over a 5-year period is really not that significant.

Weissmann also noted that the program may be little more than a major public relations move. Wal-Mart has been under fire recently for both a bribery scandal and a class-action discrimination lawsuit. The bribery scandal involved Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary, which is the retailer’s largest foreign operation, opening more than 430 stores in 2011.The company found credible evidence that the Mexican subsidiaries were paying bribes, and that an internal complaint about the bribes was knowingly suppressed at corporate headquarters in Arkansas.

In 2005, Wal-Mart became aware that its Mexican subsidiaries orchestrated bribes to win dominance in the retail market, paying to obtain permits throughout the country. Former Mexican executives gave names, amounts, and dates, totaling more than $24 million. Officials recommended that Wal-Mart investigate further into the issue; they, instead, shut the investigation down. Neither Mexican nor American agencies were notified, nor were any of the executives disciplined. The company instead focused more on public relations damage control, worried about negative press and stock prices over getting to the root of the corruption.

In 2012, nearly 2,000 women in 48 states filed lawsuits against Wal-Mark claiming the company discriminated against them because of their gender. They argued that Wal-Mart systematically favored men in pay and promotions. The charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in every single Wal-Mart region in the country. The plaintiff’s stated that managers have exclusive authority to decide pay for hourly employees, and that Wal-Mart has long known about the gender discrimination but has failed to take any action. The EEOC won a case against Wal-Mart in 2010, forcing the company to pay $11.7 million in back wages and compensation damages. That lawsuit was filed by women in Kentucky who were denied jobs at Wal-Mart because of their gender.

Wage and hour attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are concerned that Wal-Mart’s veteran program is merely a sophisticated public relations maneuver. We recognize that our nation’s veterans need jobs, and have a higher unemployment rate than non-veterans, however, they deserve adequate pay, and Wal-Mart’s questionable business practices should not be overlooked. If you or someone close to you was victimized by similar corporate discrimination, you have important legal rights, and should seek legal guidance to obtain maximum compensation.