Wal-Mart cuts ties with firm whose employee posed as reporter
Retail giant Wal-Mart said Friday that it has parted ways with a public relations firm whose employee was found to have posed as a reporter at an event staged by Wal-Mart critics.
Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said in a statement that his company and Mercury Public Affairs had decided mutually to end their “business relationship.” Mercury had received $60,000 to lobby officials at Los Angeles City Hall over a proposed Wal-Mart grocery in Chinatown, according to city records.
“We take this matter seriously and have taken the appropriate steps to ensure this type of activity is not repeated,” Restivo said.
The announcement came one week after the employee group Warehouse Workers United revealed that Mercury senior associate Stephanie Harnett had shown up at one of their news conferences and posed as a USC student journalist. During that event, she recorded an interview with a worker, according to the group.
Harnett left the firm last week. Mercury said it was taking “full responsibility” for what happened but had not directed or instructed Harnett to pose as a reporter.
“She was a junior member of our team and showed very poor judgment and we dismissed her from our firm as these actions run contrary to our firm's culture and values,” said Mercury managing director Becky Warren in an email. Warren would not say whether her firm had been working on other Wal-Mart store sites.
Warehouse Workers United has accused Wal-Mart of failing to ensure that contractors at its warehouses in the Inland Empire are paying their employees minimum wage and providing them with regular breaks and air conditioning. The group had been calling for Wal-Mart to jettison Mercury over the Harnett incident.
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: Stephanie Harnett. Credit: Caroline O'Connor / Los Angeles County Federation of Labor