It seems that Wal-Mart was finally shamed into dropping its suit against the Shanks. (Thanks to tinyfirefly for pointing this out in last night’s entry.) But let’s not make any mistake: this wouldn’t have gone as far as it did had the corporate media reported on this months ago, as it should have. And Wal-Mart is unlikely to reimburse the Shanks for the money they had to shell our for lawyers’ fees and court costs.
To recap: Debbie Shank, a Wal-Mart employee, was involved in a car accident with a trucker, and came out of it a cripple with the memory capacity of a fish. Her son, Jeremy, was killed in Iraq last year. But because his mother cannot hold a memory, she forgets soon after hearing the news. So each time she is reminded of Jeremy’s death, it’s not a reminder at all; she is literally, from her brain-damaged perspective, hearing about her son’s death for the first time, every time, until the day she dies. Debbie Shank cannot mourn her son, cannot move on from the loss, because of the injuries to her brain.
Wal-Mart, however, was not content to leave well enough alone. Because of a clause in its insurance contract with employees, the company claims it is legally entitled to settlement money stemming from the Shank family’s lawsuit against the trucking company, whose driver was partly to blame for the accident that crippled Debbie. So it took the Shanks to court, won, and subsequent appeals have been denied by the Bush-stacked court system. According to the MSNBC article:
Shank, 52, lost much of her memory and ability to communicate or walk in a crash between her minivan and a tractor trailer in May 2000. Her family sued the trucking company and won $700,000. Court records show that after attorney’s fees and costs, the remaining $417,477 from the settlement went into a trust to care for Shank.
The fund now has about $270,000, the family said.
Shanks’ health insurance was through Wal-Mart, where she worked nights stocking shelves. After the Shanks won their lawsuit, Wal-Mart sued the Shank family to recover medical costs totaling about $470,000.
Wal-Mart won its case and subsequent appeals by the Shanks that went as far as the Supreme Court, which closed legal avenues this month by declining to hear the case.
During the case, the Shanks also lost one of their three sons when Jeremy, 18, was killed in Iraq last year while serving in the Army.
Finally, with little thanks to a lazy mainstream media that didn’t see this as a worthy news story until recently, Wal-Mart caved in and did what it was supposed to do. But don’t expect this to be over; the Shanks have been screwed out of money that was supposed to go toward Debbie’s long term care. Now that money has been whittled away, and the family isn’t going to get it back.
What’s more, Wal-Mart is still screwing over its other employees, both current and former. In one of the latest insults, the company is refusing to rehire a veteran, as per the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act of 1994. Air Force airman Sean Thornton, who was discharged from the service, was supposed to get his old cashier job back at Wal-Mart, returned from duty to find his former employer has decided it doesn’t have to obey the law. And why should it? Federal lawsuit from the Department of Justice or no, the company is fully aware that thanks to Congress and the Bush regime, the courts have been stacked with judges whose sole purpose is to uphold anything and everything corporations deign to get away with.
Here are some sources listing the abuses by Wal-Mart, travesties the government (under conservative misrule, including during the Clinton administration) has allowed to go unpunished.
But hope is not dead. As the Shank case reveals, the company can be shamed into doing what it is supposed to do, which is to treat its employees fairly. Public pressure must continue to be mounted, on Wal-Mart and on local, state, and federal legislatures. After news of the company’s refusal to rehire Airman Thornton was reported, its stocks fell significantly. So public pressure and media coverage work. But legislatures (and executives) must be made to act as well. Anti-trust legislation must be restored, passed, and enforced. Abuses of employee rights must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and judges who violate the spirit (if not the letter) of the law by upholding abuses removed from the bench.
This can be done, and with your vigilance, it shall be.