After seven years of battling Walmart, the Detroit Free Press reports on how a tiny Michigan pension fund reached a $160 million settlement. This is a success not only for the fund’s retirees, but for all of the retailer’s shareholders. Every stockholder has a right to full and fair disclosure about a company, its executives and its business practices. Any false or misleading statement or omission of a material fact that might significantly affect the price of a stock may be considered a breach of fiduciary duty.
In the City of Pontiac General Employees’ Retirement System v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. class-action suit, the pension’s board members accused the giant retailer of providing shareholders with a misleading report in 2011. Purportedly, this investors’ report hid material information about ongoing corruption and a massive bribery scandal that was taking place within Walmart’s Mexico operations. Plaintiffs alleged that these false statements, which were published through the Securities Exchange Commission, affected the price of the stock for any investors who acquired Walmart’s shares between the dates of December 8, 2011, and April 20, 2012. During this time, plaintiffs acquired Walmart’s stock for more than $60 per share. On April 21, 2012, however, a Pulitzer-Prize winning article published in the New York Times exposed Walmart’s corruption practices in Mexico, which resulted in the company’s stock price dropping by 5%.
Although there may not always be a correlation between a newspaper article and the price of a stock, the metro Detroit shareholders’ allegations against Walmart were serious enough to start a class-action lawsuit. The federal judge presiding over the case found that the company was guilty of corruption by providing $24 million in bribes to overcome politics and zoning hurdles in its quest to become Mexico’s largest retailer. Walmart’s top executives discovered the corruption; their emails, however, revealed that over the course of many years, the illegal bribery deals were being covered up by the executives themselves.
Investors in metro Detroit and Southeast Michigan may stand to benefit by taking legal action over allegations of a breach of fiduciary duty when a company is involved with corrupt practices. The Securities Exchange Commission provides information for shareholders to learn more about how companies may be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.