Robert Okesson is handicapped. He drives a car with handicapped plates, and has so for the past 10 years. He says he’s been on disability for several years, and is in poor health. He’s had a kidney and a liver transplant, and one of Robert’s legs is shorter than the other. Last February, Okesson claims that he drove into the Wal-Mart in Hemet, California, but “associates” at the store stopped him when he pulled into a designated handicapped parking space at the store. Okesson claims that Wal-Mart employees were using the handicapped parking spaces for outdoor sales. Okeeson decided to sue Wal-Mart on the grounds that the company had violated California state law, which prohibits the obstruction of handicapped parking spaces. Now consider this: at Wal-Mart, CEO David Glass has handed down the 10 Basic Principles like they were engraved on tablets, and principle #1 is: The customer is always right. Or, as Sam Walton said many times: “Give the customers what they want — and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all your mistakes, and don’t make excuses — apologize.” Well, Wal-Mart decided to give Robert Okesson a little more. When Robert Okesson got to court, a judge in Small Claims Court ruled in his favor in May, and awarded him $1 in damages plus $25 in court costs. Hardly a sum to break a $119 billion corporation. But instead of apologizing to their customer, instead of making good on their mistake, Wal-Mart chose to appeal the court ruling further to Riverside Superior Court, paying $87 in court fees to file the case. Here’s the latest twist on Wal-Mart “the customer is boss” mentality: Betsy Reithemeyer, Wal-Mart spokesman, told the Associated Press: “Our corporate philosophy…is that if we feel that we didn’t do anything wrong, then we will continue to defend ourselves.” What happened to the dictum: the customer is always right? It turns out that Reithemeyer has used that line before. Two days earlier, she was quoted in a Tucson, AZ news story about a handicapped discrimination suit in that city against Wal-Mart: “We feel strongly that if you take Wal-Mart to court and we feel we didn’t do anything wrong, we’re going to vigorously fight it.” It’s nice to know that someone in America still has high principles, especially when a handicapped person is on your case.
Next time you’re in a Wal-Mart superstore (which I hope is not soon) look for the sign that says: “If we feel we didn’t do anything wrong, we will defend ourselves.” It’s the sign that has been placed on top of the old one that used to read: “The customer is boss.” And for goodness sakes, be careful where you park.