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Wal-Mart came out with publicity and legal guns glazing yesterday in a court filing accusing its former marketing executive, Julie Roehm, of having a sexual relationship with an underling and of trying to get a job with the advertising agency she finally selected to represent the retailer.

“Instead of working solely in Wal-Mart’s interest,” the company said in its filing, Roehm “frequently put her own first. She did not merely fail to avoid conflicts of interest, she invited them.”

Roehm joined the retailer in early 2006 as the company saw her as a way of helping it develop a more contemporary, sophisticated image. However, she was fired and accused of ethically questionable behavior and of having an inappropriate relationship with Sean Womack, VP-communications architecture. Both Roehm and Womack have consistently denied the charges, and Roehm has filed a counter-suit against Wal-Mart.

In order to back up its charges, Wal-Mart released what it said were emails between the two former executives:

• “I hate not being able to call you or write you,” Roehm allegedly wrote to Womack. “I think about us together all the time. Little moments like watching your face when you kiss me.”

• At another point, Roehm is said to have written to Womack, “I am smiling because I am so happy you are here with me. :))).”

• And Womack allegedly wrote: “There are two reasons I want to come here and you are at the top of the list,” adding “it is really hard for me to say no to you.”

The New York Times reports this morning that “Wal-Mart said in the filing that Ms. Roehm and Mr. Womack had lengthy career discussions with Tony Weisman, then the global growth officer of Draft FCB, and that those discussions had tainted the agency review process. Wal-Mart also asserted that Ms. Roehm shared internal company e-mail messages with Mr. Weisman and Mr. Draft, the chief executive of Draft FCB.

“Mr. Womack wrote e-mail messages to Mr. Weisman signing them ‘Sean and Julie’ that discussed the two leaving Wal-Mart to work in a venture with Draft FCB, Wal-Mart said in its filing…Wal-Mart also said that Draft FCB officials had paid for more than $2,000 in meals for Ms. Roehm and Mr. Womack. On one night alone in August 2006, the company said, the ad agency spent $1,100 on dinner and drinks for the pair — $700 at LuxBar in Chicago, then $440 on drinks at the Peninsula Hotel. Both the gifts and alleged affair violate Wal-Mart’s ethics policies.”

Making the situation look potential worse for Roehm and Womack – the romantic emails were provided to Wal-Mart by Womack’s wife, and the Draft FCB emails were provided by that agency’s parent company.

Since being fired by Wal-Mart, Roehm and Womack have continued to work together as marketing consultants.
KC's View:
Not to diminish its importance, but Roehm and Womack are hardly the first two executives to be caught in an illicit relationship in the workplace. But if these emails prove to be accurate, it is going to make it a little tough for Roehm to go forward with her lawsuit…and we suspect that Wal-Mart could win out in the end.

Reading this story, we actually felt a little sorry for Roehm and Womack, and remembered what Woody Allen once said: ‘Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants.” On the other hand, maybe Woody Allen isn’t the best role model when it comes to affairs of the heart…

There would seem to be two basic lessons:

1. Don’t do anything wrong.

2. If you’re going to do anything wrong, or even possibly questionable – whether you work for a retailer or, say the US Department of Justice – you probably shouldn’t write emails about it, and you certainly shouldn’t use your workplace computer.

Just thinking out loud here…