The biggest advertising story of 2006 spilled into 2007 last week as details of Julie Roehm's lawsuit against her ex-employer came to light. Roehm is claiming Wal-Mart violated her contract and defamed her in the press when it terminated her employment in December amid accusations of improper conduct.
But for all the chatter it spurred, the suit is likely to be settled quickly and quietly, legal experts said. "The last thing that Wal-Mart wants is for this thing to be rehashed," said Gavin McElroy, a partner and head of the executive compensation practice at Frankfurt, Kurnit, Klein & Selz, which is not connected to any of the parties but specializes in advertising and media issues. "Lawsuits like this are often brought to bring pressure to bear on one of the sides," he said.
In a suit originally filed in mid-December, Roehm claimed Wal-Mart failed to follow a termination agreement she signed when she took the job as evp of advertising last February. According to Roehm, Wal-Mart agreed to pay relocation benefits—including up to six months of mortgage payments—and a year's base salary of $325,000, if she were terminated. She also seeks the return of personal items and computer files.
Her dismissal upended the results of a review for the company's $570 million ad account, which was won by Interpublic Group's DraftFCB and Aegis' Carat. After a second pitch, the account was awarded to IPG's The Martin Agency and Publicis Groupe's MediaVest.
Roehm said she couldn't comment on legal matters, but her attorney, John F. Schaefer, said, "We're just trying to recover for Julie what she's entitled to."
In a response filed Jan. 18, Wal-Mart denied agreeing to relocation payments and that salary continuation would not be paid under certain conditions, including "violation of Wal-Mart policy." The company also said Rhoem had no right to electronic records, but could pick up a "step ladder and paint supplies" she had left behind.