Calls mounted Thursday for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to disclose records of alleged corporate surveillance as another shareholder group and the lawyers in a massive class-action discrimination lawsuit demanded the retailer shed light on its intelligence gathering.
Brad Seligman, lead attorney in the Dukes v. Wal-Mart gender discrimination case pending in San Francisco federal court, wrote Wal-Mart’s lawyers that he was concerned about recent news stories claiming Wal-Mart’s security apparatus conducted widespread surveillance operations.
“We aren’t in the habit of responding to letters from opposing counsel in the press,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said. “However, Mr. Seligman provided his letter to the press, so we will respond by saying that his purported concerns are unfounded.”
Separately, a group of Benedictine Sisters became the fourth shareholder group in a week to demand Wal-Mart turn over any records compiled on them and formally apologize for a memo that suggested some investors be investigated as potential threats to the June 1 shareholder meeting.
Wal-Mart has written to the shareholder groups to say it did not act on the January memo, which asked for a “potential threat assessment” of investors proposing policies opposed by management.
“We are deeply disappointed, appalled and shocked that Wal-Mart would engage in this type of activity with any shareholders who are owners of the company,” the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, Texas, wrote to Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott.
The memo and allegations of corporate espionage followed Wal-Mart’s public firing of a security operative last month for allegedly taping a reporter’s phone calls and intercepting pager messages. The ex-employee, Bruce Gabbard, went on to claim the retailer snooped on its critics, consultants, board members, suppliers, shareholders and employees.
Wal-Mart has denied any wrongdoing and last Friday won a late-night emergency order from a judge in its hometown of Bentonville, Ark., barring Gabbard from talking to reporters.
Seligman said he does not know if Wal-Mart spied on his team but that the news reports by The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press raised concerns.
“We do know from speaking with members of the (class-action lawsuit) that Wal-Mart’s security is sophisticated and tenacious. They have their own internal CIA,” Seligman said.
Wal-Mart’s office of global security is headed by a veteran senior CIA and FBI official, Kenneth Senser, with a staff that includes former FBI agents, State Department security experts and other government intelligence professionals.
Seligman wrote to Wal-Mart that any surveillance could threaten the legal privileges of his team and the plaintiffs, representing as many as 1.5 million current and former female employees of Wal-Mart. It is the nation’s largest employment discrimination class-action case.
“Accordingly, we request that Wal-Mart investigate whether class counsel, plaintiffs and/or disclosed class members have been the subject of any surveillance activities by Wal-Mart, its employees or agents, whether authorized or not,” the letter said.
If there was any surveillance, Wal-Mart must disclose it to the Dukes legal team and the court and produce any related documents, recordings or electronic data, Seligman wrote.
A federal appeals court ruled in February that Wal-Mart must face a class-action lawsuit alleging as many as 1.5 million former and current female employees were discriminated against in pay and promotions. Wal-Mart is seeking another appeal of the decision.