“Our people make the difference,” boasts Wal-Mart. Four Wal-Mart employees have become millionaires — but perhaps not the way Wal-Mart intended. A jury in early January awarded $20 million to 4 former employees of Wal-Mart who were canned after Wal-Mart filmed them eating nuts and candy from a damaged package. The 4 “Walmartians”, as the company’s workers are called, worked in the Monticello, KY Wal-Mart store, and all were confronted by Wal-Mart management with videotaped evidence that they had eaten cashews and breath mints from packages that had been damaged in shipping. According to the Associated Press story of the munch bunch, the items in question were “claims” merchandise — packages damaged in shipment that supposedly is not suitable for retail sale to the customers, and goods the manufacturer does not want back. Wal-Mart apparently claimed that the “Breath Mint 4” were violating company policy against pilfering. The dramatic videotape evidence (Big Brother watches over the Walmartians) shows that the 4 workers did “eat a small amount of nuts and mints”. But the workers said in their defense that they were just following an unwritten Walmartian policy in which such “claims” items were left in employee lounges for workers and managers to eat — another fringe benefit of Wal-Mart employment no doubt. The jury deliberated for an hour and a half, and came back with a judgement that gave each of the 4 employees $5 million: $1 million for being slandered. $1 million for being embarassed and suffering mental anguish. $3 million in punitive damages. These four employees had all worked at Wal-Mart for nearly seven years — or a total of almost 28 years of service to the company — and they got axed for munching a few nuts! The incident took place in 1995.
Wal-Mart says it is considering appealing the $20 million jury verdict. After all, that’s enough to buy breath mints for all Wal-Mart Associates well into the next millenium. To some observers, the whole Wal-Mart reaction to the incident is just, well, nutty. If you want to tell Wal-Mart what you think of a company that boots a worker with seven years experience for eating a few nuts, you can email the CEO of Wal-Mart at the following address: [email protected] Would it have made any difference to management if their associates had been munching WAL-nuts?