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Wal-Mart Fires Worker Over Photos of Managers

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At Wal-Mart, one of the key personnel mantras is "respect for the
individual." One Wal-Mart worker once told me, "I'm sure Wal-Mart
respects the individual -- I just never met that individual." Any
manager will tell you that you can judge a company by how it treats its
front line workers. Here is the story of one Wal-Mart worker
who got no respect.

Christine Knowels was a loyal Wal-Mart worker who lost her job,
and wanted it back. She was hired by Wal-Mart in August of 2000, and
worked for roughly seven years---all at the Wal-Mart supercenter
#1841 in Chesapeake, Virginia. She was abruptly fired for "gross
misconduct", with a "mandatory no rehire" finding. According to her
store manager, "Christine displayed 13 potentially offensive
pictures of the management team in the back hallway while on the
clock. Christine used/took company resources (digital media/or
photo copies off of company property without permission."

When Knowels went to file for unemployment compensation, the
Virginia Employment Commission wrote up her case as follows:
"Christine was discharged from her position with Wal-Mart for
displaying photos of the management team that were considered to be
potentially offensive. Christine reported that she had been told by the
employee who was taking down the photos that she could have
them. Christine used a program on her computer to make funny
pictures and brought the altered pictures back to work the
following day. Christine said she had done such pictures in the
past and co-workers thought it was good for morale. Christine said no
one had complained about them in the past and while she was
putting up the pictures on the board a co-manager saw them and
laughed. When Christine was let go she was asked if she had
permission to take the pictures and told [the store manager] who was removing the pictures had told her it was ok to do with them what she wanted.

Christine did not feel the pictures were
offensive, and did not mean for them to be taken that way.
Christine said she signed off on Wal-Mart's separation form as she was
very upset and needed to get out of the office as she was sick when she
heard the news of her discharge. Wal-Mart has said that
Christine was discharged for putting up potentially offensive
pictures of the management team on company time and for taking
company property without permission. Wal-Mart has not provided any copy
of the policy the claimant allegedly violated, or given any
explanation on how the pictures were thought to be offensive.

Regarding claims of Christine taking the pictures without
permission, she states that she had permission. The burden of proof lies
with the employer to show evidence of misconduct. In this
case, Wal-Mart has provided only a statement of why Christine was
dischared. However, there is no documentation to show her actions
were willful or deliberate, or amounted to the level of misconduct. The
charge of misconduct in connection with employment is a matter to be
taken very seriously in the instant case. While Christine may have shown
poor judgment in what she did...such action cannot, in the opinion of the
Deputy, be deemed misconduct. Accordingly, the
claimant is Qualified for Benefits."

For her part, Knowels says her co-workers thought the pictures
she created were a big hit. "I have done pictures of an associate, who works
as ICS Lead and Truck Unload Leader. I have put lime green,
bright yellow, hot pink, blue and purple different styled wigs on
him in the pictures, they hung in grocery receiving for a few
weeks. I also made him into Shrek by turning his skin all green,
bulging out his eyes and elongating his ears. This picture hung at the
time clock for at least a week. He wanted to take the pictures home for
his kids."

On the day she was fired, Knowels says, "When I was called into
the office, Mr. [E] was sitting there. He had already had the
green sheet filled out and a copy of the surveillance CD, which
was placed on top of his computer. Even after speaking with me
about the pictures Mr.[E] just took the green sheet down off his
computer top and asked me to sign it. He did not add any
information I told him, or change anything to what I told him. He
didn't correct what he wrote either. He had me fired before I got
in the office."

Knowels says "the pictures in question were made to boost the
moral of the store, make people laugh and have a good time,
because several associates have been saying we are not allowed to
have any fun anymore and the morale is gone. Let me just say that
I have been making these type of pictures...for as long as I have
been working for Wal-Mart and no one told me I couldn't do it or
that it was harassment, nor did I think it to be as such. I have
had several people ask me to make their pictures or their kids
picture, which I have done also. If I felt it would of hurt
anyone's feelings or was even considered harassment I never would
of made the pictures. I would of taken the pictures down if anyone told
me to, and I would have apologized."

Knowels admits she signed a "green sheet" on separation,
stating
that she did not have permission to have the photos, but she
adds, "the moment [they] said I was fired my stomach turned and I
felt I was going to regurgitate any minute and I just scribbled
my name and got out of the office to get to the bathroom."

Looking back on her termination, Knowels says that her store
manager lied about the photos, because she did have permission to
use them. "So many associates have called me and emailed me
saying how they thought it was wrong to fire me because they know
I was just trying to raise the morale and have a good time."

Knowels says her loss is not just emotional, but economic as
well. "To lose the Health Insurance on my husband and myself, my
Accidental Death Insurance, Dental Insurance, Part of my 401k &
Profit sharing (as I had 3 weeks to go before being fully
invested) Life Insurance and Stock options, over something I have
been doing for years and always got great response is just
horrible."

Christine L. Knowels, loyal seven-year employee at Wal-Mart,
had to turn in her badge and her discount card. But she also left
something much more important on the table in that back office in
supercenter #1841 in Chesapeake, Virginia: her pride and
self-respect. And she's prepared to fight the world's largest
retailer to get them back.

Alongside of Knowels' photos of employees wearing lime-colored
wigs, is a grim snapshot of life inside the Wal-Mart corporation
itself.