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Roehm Hits Back at Wal-Mart

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NEW YORK The fight between fired marketing executive Julie Roehm and her former employer Wal-Mart got uglier Wednesday. Roehm released a statement to the media claiming she is a victim of a "smear campaign."

In the statement, released by her attorney John F. Schaefer, Roehm challenged Wal-Mart's allegations of certain improprieties such as having an affair with a subordinate and said there was no valid reason for her dismissal.

In her statement, Roehm said: "Wal-Mart is insinuating things about my personal life and pretending I violated some code of ethics with advertisers, all to distract from the reality that it didn't want my form of progressive marketing."

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart terminated Roehm, svp, marketing communications, and her subordinate, Sean Womack, in December. It then canceled a deal the two had negotiated with advertising firm DraftFCB and reopened its search for an agency to handle its $570 million ad account.

Ultimately, Wal-Mart chose Interpublic Group's The Martin Agency as its lead agency. DraftFCB is also a unit of IPG.

Calls placed to a Bentonville phone number for Roehm were not returned. John Simley, a Wal-Mart representative, said, "The facts in our counterclaim speak for themselves."

Roehm, who was hired last year to help shake up the company's marketing image, filed suit Jan. 10, claiming she was wrongfully terminated. Last week, Wal-Mart filed a counterclaim accusing Roehm of having an affair with Womack and of seeking gifts and otherwise showing favoritism toward an agency that was lobbying for Wal-Mart's account. It also accused them of trying to find a job with the ad agency. Wal-Mart also cited e-mails between Roehm and Womack that Wal-Mart said supported evidence of an inappropriate relationship.

Roehm said in the statement that Wal-Mart used "anonymous witnesses and employed selective use of e-mail, taken way out of context."

She continued, "When you patch together pieces of messages sent at different times, you can create pretty much any story you want."

In the statement, Roehm argued she was a scapegoat for Wal-Mart, saying, "Somewhere along the way, senior executives at Wal-Mart seemed to feel that maybe change wasn't such a good idea."

Wal-Mart is seeking damages that would be determined at trial, plus costs and attorney fees.

Roehm said that she is at a "great disadvantage. ... I don't have the same resources...They outman me with private investigators, computer hackers, ex-CIA operatives, former FBI men, and an army of public relations operatives."

When Wal-Mart filed the countersuit, Mona Williams, a company rep, said at the time that it "had no intention of sharing the details of her personal and professional misconduct... Now we must respond to her lawsuit. We are in a position where we have no choice but to share the real story of what happened."

Roehm's lawsuit and Wal-Mart's counterclaim are in federal court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

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