I’m a litigator so I enjoy conflict and advocacy and naturally think I’m pretty good at it.But many times the client is better served by being skilled at conflict resolution, rather than aggressive and/or reflexive conflict continuation.
That appears to be a lesson learned by Wal-Mart, who really should have heeded Akin Gump’s good counsel:
More than six years before the biggest sex discrimination lawsuit in history was filed against Wal-Mart Stores, the company hired a prominent law firm to examine its vulnerability to just such a suit.
The law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, found widespread gender disparities in pay and promotion at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores and urged the company to take basic steps — like posting every job opening and creating specific goals to promote women and minorities — to avoid liability.
The 1995 report said that women employed by Wal-Mart earned less than men in numerous job categories, with men in salaried jobs earning 19 percent more than women. By one measure, the law firm found, men were five and a half times as likely as women to be promoted into salaried, management positions.
Without significant changes, the lawyers said in their confidential analysis, Wal-Mart “would find it difficult to fashion a persuasive explanation for disproportionate employment patterns.”
In 2001, seven women filed a class-action suit on behalf of all women working at the company. They complained of a general pattern of discrimination in pay and promotions.
Hmm, imagine what would have happened if Wal-Mart took up Akin Gump’s suggestions:
Akin Gump recommended that Wal-Mart document applicants’ job preferences, post notice of all openings and training opportunities, establish promotion goals and timetables for women and minorities, and monitor progress. It also suggested that the company set up a mandatory arbitration system for employment claims to reduce the risks of court cases.
Company documents and depositions in the lawsuit suggest that Wal-Mart’s initial adoption of the report’s recommendations was fitful and incomplete.
Wal-Mart began posting more, but not all, job openings and adopted numerical goals for promoting women. But in a February 2000 memorandum to Wal-Mart board members, Coleman H. Peterson, executive vice president for human resources at the time, bemoaned the lack of progress toward diversity goals.
“Female management representation at Wal-Mart super centers, Sam’s and logistics and, therefore, total company are worse than prior year,” he wrote in the memorandum, which was turned over to the plaintiffs.
And in June 2002, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president for human resources sent a memorandum voicing alarm that “we do not have a poster, brochure” that explained “how to get promoted into the management training program,” according to documents in the case.
Now think about what allegedly happened with Jim Greer and the possible involvement of GrayRobinson in helping Greer set up his dummy corporation:
Delmar Johnson’s and Greer’s names were deliberately scrubbed from Department of State documents for Victory Strategies. They only listed a staffer at Gray Robinson law firm.
Greer btw denies the charges and his lawyer Damon Chase (whose firm boasts of 250 years of legal experience!) pulls out the venerable, nearly as old “ham sandwich” line:
“You can indict a ham sandwich because your only presenting one side of the case,” Chase said. “Ultimately when you show the rest of the story … you realize it’s not criminal.”
In other not-so-positive GrayRobinson news, the Broward Bulldog takes a look at connections between the firm and former FSC Justice Wells:
Retiring Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Wells knew he faced a conflict of interest in his relationship with his future employer at Orlando’s GrayRobinson when he disqualified himself from cases involving the law firm on Dec. 30, 2008.
But that did not stop him 30 days later from participating in a ruling that, in effect, backed a statewide political fight led by prominent members of his soon-to-be employer.
The group that lost the ruling – Florida Hometown Democracy – now wonders if Justice Wells’ vote was unduly influenced by his employment opportunity at GrayRobinson.
“It doesn’t smell good,” said Palm Beach environmental attorney Lesley Blackner, Florida Hometown Democracy’s president. “When I found out he was going to work for GrayRobinson it seemed like there was a high potential for conflicts of interest.”
Ms. Blackner is right, it doesn’t smell too good.
In fact, it smells about as good as a 250 year old ham sandwich.