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Judge Bounces Roehm's Wal-Mart Suit

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DETROIT A Michigan judge has sided with Wal-Mart and dismissed a lawsuit by ex-marketing executive Julie Roehm over her firing.

Oakland County circuit judge Denise Langford Morris said Roehm should have sued Wal-Mart in Arkansas, where the retail giant is based.

A Wal-Mart representative welcomed the decision. Roehm's lawyer said his client is deciding whether to appeal in Michigan or sue in Arkansas.

Roehm is a high-profile advertising executive who was fired in December, less than a year after moving to Wal-Mart from Chrysler.

At the time, the company declined to say why it fired her, but court filings have alleged mutual accusations of ethical breaches.

Dismissed last December as svp, marketing communications, Roehm initially filed suit in January. In a case summary filed in April, Roehm said she might also add a claim of unlawful discrimination "based upon newly discovered evidence and the recent filing by [the] defendant."

Wal-Mart countered in March, alleging Roehm had breached her fiduciary duty to the company, and providing e-mails in an effort to prove that Roehm and former company exec Sean Womack had a romantic relationship, which is against company policy for managers and subordinates. (Womack was also dismissed in December 2006.)

The Bentonville, Ark., company also claimed Roehm and Womack had accepted gifts from potential vendors and that Womack had sought a job with Interpublic Group's DraftFCB, the eventual winner, while the review was ongoing.

Roehm later issued a statement that she was the victim of a "smear campaign" being conducted by the retailer.

Roehm's case summary also included a copy of her employment agreement with Wal-Mart, which outlines her base salary of $325,000, as well as a $250,000 signing bonus, a management incentive plan that allowed her to earn up to 125 percent of her annual salary and restricted stock options worth approximately $300,000. It also included a post-termination and no-compete agreement—signed by Roehm on Jan. 13, 2006—saying that transition payments (including salary for one year) would not be made "if you are terminated as the result of a violation of Wal-Mart policy." The agreement also listed 32 potential competitors she could not work for, including Kmart, Target, Home Depot, Sears and Toys R Us.

After the aborted review, IPG's The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., won the $570 million advertising account in a re-pitch.

'Adweek' senior reporter Aaron Baar contributed to this report.