Roughly two weeks ago, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. announced it was giving $5 million to The National Urban League, an organization devoted to empowering African Americans economically and socially, to support its workforce development initiatives. That came on the heels of Wal-Mart’s hiring of black civil rights leader Andrew Young as a spokesman for the company. The giant retailer has been spending a lot of time and money to cultivate the image of a company on the cutting edge of diversity. But at the store level, the diversity image-making just doesn’t cut it. Wal-Mart over the years has been pursued by a series of racial discrimination lawsuits, many of them emanating from the daily operations of its stores. This week, for example, the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reported that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has given its support to Gayle Bryant, of Eagan, Minnesota, a black woman who says the Wal-Mart store in Eagan discriminated against her because of her race. Bryant claims that in April of 2005 store employees did not believe the check she used to buy $92.69 worth of Wal-Mart products was good — and they entrapped her by accepting the check, and then having police arrest her when she exited the store. The Human Rights department said there was probable cause to support Bryant’s charge that she was singled out for this treatment because of the color of her skin. After Bryant filed her discrimination claim, Wal-Mart added insult to injury by offering Bryant a $50 gift card — as if discrimination were such a trifling little thing. The company raised their settlement offer to $1,000. The retailer said its employees were just being too aggressive in their efforts to prevent fraud. Bryant is scheduled to meet with Wal-Mart in October to continue settlement discussions, but now Wal-Mart knows that the Minnesota Attorney General could represent Bryant if the case goes to an Administrative Law Judge. According to Bryant’s complaint, two cashiers and an assistant manager told her they couldn’t authorize her check and left her for about 30 minutes while they took her check and went into a back office, she said. The Wal-Mart employees told Bryant they didn’t think her check was real, but they eventually accepted the check, while calling the police to have her arrested. When she stepped outside, three Eagan cops arrested her on suspicion of theft and using a counterfeit check. In the Department of Human Rights findings, they wrote, “According to (Wal-Mart’s) policy and procedures, her check should have been accepted as valid payment for her purchases, but she was instead given sham ‘approval’ in order to create justification for having her apprehended by the police on suspicion of theft.”
This is not the kind of story that Wal-Mart wants the National Urban League to read about. You can bet that this case will be settled before it reaches court, and Bryant will be sworn to confidentiality not to reveal the settlement amount. The case will end quietly, with much less attention by the media than the Wal-Mart gift to the National Urban League. But which story tells you more about Wal-Mart’s values?