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Wal-Mart Battles Former Marketing Exec Over Firing

Reuters
Tuesday, 20 Mar 2007 | 5:12 PM ET

Wal-Mart Stores asserted in a court filing that two former top marketing officials engaged in a sexual relationship while choosing new advertising agencies and sought jobs with one of the agencies that was picked for the work.

Wal-Mart accused Julie Roehm and Sean Womack of extending their visits with DraftFCB, an ad agency involved in the review, to spend more personal time together and to promote themselves to the agency as job candidates.

Roehm was fired from Wal-Mart on Dec. 4 after less than a year as head of marketing communications. She sued the company, claiming breach of contract and fraud.

In a counterclaim, Wal-Mart disclosed romantic e-mails that Roehm and Womack sent to each other. The filing, dated March 19, was first reported by The New York Times.

In one message, Roehm wrote to Womack: "I think about us together all of the time. Little moments like watching your face when you kiss me."

The message was preserved by Womack's wife, Wal-Mart said.

Womack admitted to a sexual relationship with Roehm when his wife confronted him with the emails, but later attempted to recant his story and tell his wife that there had been no affair, Wal-Mart said. The company said in the filing that the Womacks soon separated.

Reached by the Times in Las Vegas, Roehm denied Wal-Mart's accusations of an affair with Womack, and said she had not had job discussions with DraftFCB. Roehm's lawyer, John Schaefer said in a statement, "Wal-Mart deliberately chose to take the e-mails out of context... putting its own spin on them to create sensationalism."

The Times said Womack did not return a call for comment.

Wal-Mart said that Roehm also violated company policy. In one example, Roehm had DraftFCB pay for a dinner at Chicago's LuxBar by handing her check over to Chairman and CEO Howard Draft at the end of the meal.

Wal-Mart said in its request to file a counterclaim against Roehm that it would seek compensation from her for legal fees in the case and for other damages.

A spokesman for Interpublic Group , the parent company of DraftFCB, told the New York Times that the company provided e-mail messages to Wal-Mart for the inquiry.

Interpublic was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday morning.

Womack worked with Wal-Mart on a contract basis while employed by advertising agency Saatchi X and then became vice president of communications architecture, reporting directly to Roehm, according to Wal-Mart's filing.

Wal-Mart awarded its $580 million advertising account to DraftFCB and Carat USA, which is owned by Aegis Group, in October. In December, after Roehm and Womack were fired, it reopened bidding for the account and DraftFCB was not eligible to bid.

In January, Wal-Mart selected a different agency within Interpublic, Martin Agency, and Publicisfor the work.

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