Today's Outrage: Lawsuits Sap $255M from Wal-Mart

Settling 63 class action wage cases erodes Wal-Mart's fourth-quarter profit and there may be more to come. Caveat emptor, investors.
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Wal-Mart's

(WMT) - Get Report

profit took a $255 million hit in the fourth quarter from litigation about the wages it pays employees.

That's how much the world's biggest retailer paid to make 63 class action lawsuits in the U.S. go away.

As a result, income from continuing operations fell 7.7% to $3.8 billionfourth quarter last year, also including unfavorable currency exchange rates. The settlement amounted to about 6.7% of income from operations. Nonetheless, Wal-Mart

beat expectations.

While Wal-Mart appears keen to put all this bad publicity behind it, this may not be the end. Similar lawsuits in California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania aren't on a list of settled cases that was provided by Wal-Mart, according to

Bloomberg News.

The company also is fighting class action status granted to as many as 2 million current and former female workers in what may be the biggest sex-bias case in the nation's history, according to Bloomberg.

It just goes to show that investors need to pay attention to the fine print in company statements about litigation. Just have a look at the disclaimer Wal-Mart included at the end of today's earnings release.

At the end of today's press statement, Wal-Mart notes that: "forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors, domestically and internationally, including general economic conditions, the cost of goods, competitive pressures, geopolitical events and conditions, levels of unemployment, levels of consumer disposable income, changes in laws and regulations, consumer credit availability, inflation, consumer spending patterns and debt levels, currency exchange fluctuations, trade restrictions, changes in tariff and freight rates, changes in the costs of gasoline, diesel fuel, other energy, transportation, utilities, labor and health care, accident costs, casualty and other insurance costs, interest rate fluctuations, financial and capital market conditions, developments in litigation to which the company is a party, weather conditions, damage to the company's facilities from natural disasters, regulatory matters and other risks."

That's a lot of cautionary comments. Did you spot the line about "developments in litigation to which the company is a party"?

Caveat emptor, investors.

Hall is the editor of

TheStreet.com

. Previously, he served as deputy editor and chief innovation officer at

The Orange County Register

and as a news manager at

Bloomberg News

in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Washington, D.C. As a reporter, he covered business and financial markets, worked in both print and television in the U.S. and Europe, and conducted in-depth investigative coverage at

The Journal-Gazette

in Fort Wayne, Ind. His work also has been published in a variety of newspapers including

The Wall Street Journal

,

The New York Times

and

International Herald Tribune

. Hall received a bachelor�s degree in journalism and political science from The Ohio State University and has taken graduate management science courses at Boston University.