Wal-Mart Disputes Roehm Claims

CHICAGO Wal-Mart on Jan. 18 answered a complaint from former marketing executive Julie Roehm, basically denying claims she filed against the retail giant shortly after her termination in December.

A call to Wal-Mart seeking comment was referred to the court documents.

Roehm on Dec. 15 filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming Wal-Mart violated her contract when it abruptly terminated her employment.

According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan, Roehm claims the company owes her compensation and other costs outlined in her contract. In addition to a $250,000 signing bonus, she was also set to receive $325,000 in annual salary, as well as bonuses, restricted stock and stock options, according to the lawsuit.

In addition, Roehm was entitled to relocation reimbursement of up to six mortgage payments if she left the company involuntarily, as well as base salary for a year from her date of termination, per court papers.

Roehm claims she was told by Wal-Mart CFO Tom Schoewe that she “‘hasn’t been fulfilling the expectations of an officer of the company,'” and her employment was terminated on December 4, 2006, with no further compensation awarded beyond that date, the suit states.

“[Wal-Mart] provided no specific examples of any conduct by [Roehm] which did not fulfill the expectations of an officer of the company, because no such conduct exists,” according to court papers.

The suit also alleges “agents of the defendant” made “false and malicious statements to the media” after Roehm’s termination.

Roehm and Sean Womack, vice president of communications architecture, were dismissed amid allegations that at least one of them had violated Wal-Mart’s strict ethics policy.

Believed to be at issue was a dinner at Nobu 57 in New York hosted by Interpublic Group’s DraftFCB. The agency, then a contender in a review of Wal-Mart $570 million advertising account, picked up the tab.

According to Wal-Mart’s policy, employees are not allowed to accept or request “gift or gratuity from a supplier, potential supplier or any person who you believe may seek to influence any business decision or transaction involving Wal-Mart.”

DraftFCB and media partner Carat, a unit of Aegis Group, won that review, but the decision was overturned after Roehm and Womack’s termination, and the process was re-opened.

IPG’s The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., and Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest in New York, emerged triumphant in that second contest.

As a result of the termination, Roehm said she had sustained damages including, but not limited to, “significant economic losses, monetary damages, increased costs, and attorney fees,” according to the lawsuit. Roehm also said she has been denied access to personal items such as computer files and work she had done prior to her employment with Wal-Mart.

She is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Roehm did not return a phone call about the lawsuit. Her attorney, Jack Schaefer, could not immediately be reached.

In separate news, Wal-Mart this week said Stephen Quinn would become the company’s chief marketing officer, replacing John Fleming, who shifted to the company’s director of merchandise operations. Fleming was responsible for hiring Roehm.