Class-action lawsuits are nothing new for Wal-Mart. But this one is, to steal a phrase from the attorney bringing the suit, plain creepy. Michael Myers alleges that Wal-Mart has been collecting on life insurance policies it secretly took out on its employees.
From The Tampa Tribune:
When Karen Armatrout died in 1997, her employer, Wal-Mart, collected thousands of dollars on a life insurance policy the retail giant had taken out without telling her, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
Armatrout was one of about 350,000 employees Wal-Mart secretly insured nationwide, said Texas attorney Michael D. Myers, who estimated the company collected on 75 to 100 policies involving Florida employees who died.
Myers is seeking to make the Armatrout lawsuit a class-action case on behalf of the estates of all the Florida employees who died while unwittingly insured by Wal-Mart.
“Creepy’s a good word for it,” Myers said. “If you ask the executives that decided to buy these policies and the insurance companies that sold them, they would say this was designed to create tax benefits for the company, which would use the benefits for benevolent purposes such as buying employee medical benefits.
“If you asked me, I would say they did it to make more money.”
I don’t buy it.
Wal-Mart makes more in a day than it could be collecting from low-cost (what else?) life insurance policies. The risk is too high and the payout too low. Something else is going on.
The company settled two lawsuits with employees represented by Myers in Texas and Oklahoma, one for about $10 million and one for about $5 million. He said Karen Armatrout came to his attention when Wal-Mart mistakenly gave her husband’s phone number to an Oklahoman who called the retailer inquiring about the settlement.
Myers said he also has filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart in Louisiana.
Richard Armatrout, who is retired, does not want to speak publicly about his case, Myers said. Armatrout did not respond to a message left by the Tribune.
Karen Armatrout was 50 when she died of cancer, said Myers, who said she had worked several years in the pharmacy of the store on West Waters Avenue.
Myers said the policy payouts ranged from $50,000 to $80,000, depending on the person’s age and gender. They were taken out on all full-time Wal-Mart employees who, in December 1993, were between ages 18 and 70 and participated in the medical benefits plan.
Company’s routinely take out what are called key-man policies on important executives. But those are purchased with the full knowledge of the executive and are for the purpose of covering business loses if a central employee meets an untimely death. Those policies are for millions, not pocket change like $65,000.
But then there is this:
Wal-Mart, which said it canceled its policies in early 2000 because it was losing money on the arrangement, says the program was intended to reduce its income taxes to help pay rising employee health care costs.
Could Wal-Mart really be that stupid?