After an aggressive media campaign to shore up its public image,
is still stumbling into scrapes within its communities.
One week after the world's largest retailer made headlines by closing a unionizing store in Canada, a state judge in West Virginia has reportedly blocked the company's efforts to rezone land that some say contains a Civil War battlefield and cemetery.
Raleigh County Circuit Judge Robert A. Burnside Jr. ruled the public never got a chance to review a completed rezoning application or adequately prepare a response to the Wal-Mart project, according to a report from the
. He ruled Wednesday that the zoning reclassification, earlier approved by Fayetteville's Planning Commission, should be reversed and the matter sent back to the town.
reported that members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy have expressed concerns that the shopping center would disturb a Civil War cemetery and part of a farm area that they believe to be the site of the Battle of Fayetteville. Several people claim at least 24 soldiers are buried on the property.
This news came on the same day Wal-Mart beat analysts' estimates for its fourth-quarter earnings by a penny. The company's stock, after gaining 0.8% after the opening bell, was recently down 7 cents, or 0.1%, to $52.53.
Despite its bargain prices, Wal-Mart has been prone to scuffles with various communities in which the retail chain has stores. Two years ago, it was investigated by the Department of Justice because the contractors cleaning its stores used undocumented workers. Last year, a federal judge approved class-action status for a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination.
More recently, it has come under federal scrutiny for alleged violations of child labor laws, and several U.S. communities have actually voted to disallow Wal-Mart to build stores within their borders.
Responding to the negative press, Wal-Mart has recently done things like step up its advertising campaign to promote adult literacy and grant unprecedented access to the inner-workings of its business to news organizations like
Still, the closing of Wal-Mart's Canadian store amid negotiations with organized labor caused a stir because critics said the move reflected a broader aversion to the presence of any unions at its stores.
Despite signs that the company is taking steps to defend its image, Buckman, Buckman & Reid analyst Ulysses Yannas said any risk posted to Wal-Mart by litigation exposure and bad publicity is more than factored into its stock price.
"There's really nothing new about any of this," Yannas said (he owns shares in Wal-Mart, but his firm has no banking relationship with the company). "This company has had lawsuits coming up the kazoo. Everybody is suing them, but how has it affected operations? Not very much, and at the end of the day, a company is valued based on its operations."