Wal-Mart Appealing Defamation Verdict

February 17, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Retailer Wal-Mart has announced its intention to appeal an $8.5-million defamation judgment in a case involving an employee accused of shoplifting tobacco.

Planning on appealing to the Mississippi Supreme Court, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer will be taking the next step after Circuit Judge Andrew Howorthrefused to throw out the defamation award in favor of former employee Lamon Griggs, who had been accused of shoplifting tobacco, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, had two options in its recent court actions.   The other options was for the company to request Howorth to reduce the award, a path the retailer chose not to take because “He [Griggs] didn’t deserve one penny,” Wal-Mart attorney Bill Luckett told the Associated Press.

The retailer chose to argue the verdict was “excessive and shocks the conscience,” in seeking to have the case thrown out.  

Case Background

Griggs charged Wal-Mart with defamation, asserting that store personnel had falsely accused him of theft and spread those allegations.   After he was fired by Wal-Mart, Griggs was unable to find another trucking job and is now working part time with the Chickasaw County sheriff’s department in Mississippi, according to the report.  He had been making $70,000 a year at Wal-Mart (See  Shoplifting Charge Nets Wal-Mart Worker $8.5 Million ).

The imbroglio began in 1997 when Griggs, working as a truck driver for Wal-Mart in Hammond, Louisiana, having made his delivery, picked up some chewing tobacco to purchase.  He then remembered that he had to check in with his supervisor.  Still carrying the package, as he left the store looking for a phone, he informed the “greeter” at the door that he had the tobacco but had to step out.  However, before he could reenter the store, Griggs claimed the store’s “loss prevention” staff stopped him.

Griggs gave a written statement to his supervisor that he had never intended to take the tobacco.  Still, Griggs was fired in accordance with Wal-Mart’s policy on dismissing employees caught taking merchandise from the store.

After hearing arguments at the initial trial, the jury awarded Griggs $1.5 million in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages. Prior to trial, the defense had offered $30,000 to settle.

The case is Griggs v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.