You might think that Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott learned a lesson from the beating he took a few months ago in the media over the Deborah Shank case, but you'd be wrong. Wal-Mart now seems determined to keep disability benefits from all Americans, not merely its own employees. To make matters worse, the company has chosen to start its campaign with an injured police officer.
The NW Arkansas Morning News recently reported how former Pine Bluff Police Officer Jimmy Singleton was patting down a suspect in 2003, when he was shot in the ankle and knocked unconscious from a blow to the head. He suffered neurological damage, and today is overly sensitive to light and suffers frequent migraines. The bullet remains lodged in his ankle, making it difficult to walk or stand up for long periods of time. Officer Singleton is now retired, but has spent the past 4 years waging a nasty court battle to receive disability benefits.
So where does Wal-Mart come in? A lawyer representing both Wal-Mart and Tyson, Arkansas' two largest private employers, "tendered friend-of-the-court briefs with the state Supreme Court this month arguing his claim should be denied."
Singleton's Lawyer Kenneth Harper tells us that "the 'big boys' are interested in the case because they fear the Court of Appeals' rulings will set a precedent that will allow more people to collect on disability claims."
On his part, Singleton said he was stunned that Wal-Mart and others would get involved and fight to deny his benefits.
In addition to the completely shameless treatment of an officer wounded in the public service, this looks to be another horrible business decision for a company that continues to struggle with its public image. Just last week a Harris Interactive poll was released measuring the corporate image of 60 American companies and Wal-Mart's brand suffered the third biggest drop on the list over the past year. And this past November, Wal-Mart Watch released a poll that showed 28% of all consumers (and 23% of regular Wal-Mart shoppers) report developing a more negative opinion of the company over the past year.
Of course Wal-Mart argues the real measure of its image is the number of shoppers that come through the door. While it is true Wal-Mart is profiting off America's weak economy, the company could be earning more. Last year, New York's Communications Consulting Worldwide (CCW), which studies issues such as reputation calculated that if Wal-Mart had a reputation like that of rival Target Corporation, its stock would be worth 8.4 percent more, adding $16 billion in market capitalization.
It's not as if Wal-Mart isn't concerned with its image - just this week, the company unveiled a new logo. The brighter colors hope to convey a friendlier Wal-Mart and improve the company's sinking reputation. But no corporate marketing campaign can hide cases like Debbie Shank's and Jimmy Singleton's - which show us where Wal-Mart's real interests lie.
Cue the smiley face. Sounds like the same old Wal-Mart.
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