Two Wal-Mart “associates” from very different backgrounds have filed lawsuits against their former company, charging that they were dismissed for blowing the whistle on unethical practices at the giant retailer. Both former employees are being represented by Dallas Attorney Steve Kardell. One of the workers, Rickey Armstrong, worked at Wal-Mart’s optical plant in Dallas, which makes prescription eyeglasses. He was terminated in March for “gross misconduct” by Wal-Mart. Armstrong says he reported corporate wrongdoing committed by the plant manager at the Dallas plant, where Armstrong was a quality control employee. Armstrong charges that the manager falsely reported defective products at the plant and used company money for personal services. A spokesperson for Wal-Mart told the Associated Press that Armstrong “became angry and threatened to break the necks of two managers. He also threatened to follow them home and beat them up. Many of Armstrong’s co-workers heard these threats.” Armstrong sent a letter to Wal-Mart’s board of directors in April, asking for his job back. He told Wal-Mart directors that he witnessed “a range of illegal and inappropriate activity at the Dallas Optical Lab” that violated Wal-Mart’s policies. Armstrong claims that his letter reached the office of Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, but no action was ever taken. A second employee, former Wal-Mart Vice President Jared Bowen, was fired in April. Bowen also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor May, charging that Wal-Mart violated the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act when it fired him. Bowen was involved in the affair surrounding Wal-Mart’s fired Vice Chairman Thomas Coughlin, who allegedly misspent between $100,000 and $500,000 in company money, including the hiring of union workers to spy on union activity against Wal-Mart. Bowen says he reported suspicious expenses he was told to approve by Coughlin, who was his boss. The federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act by was passed by Congress in 2002 to protect whistle-blowers from being fired for reporting wrong-doers.
At Wal-Mart’s annual meeting, CEO Lee Scott said, “We will always be committed to the highest standards of integrity. I am so proud of our associates who have the courage to stand up for what is right.” To encourage workers to report ethics violations, Wal-Mart set up an Ethics Hotline. Now, when employees have come forward, they end up being terminated. For earlier stories on this subject, search Newsflash by “ethics.”