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Ignoring Investors Courts Trouble


Up Front: PROXY WARS

IGNORING INVESTORS COURTS TROUBLE

WAL-MART HAS BEEN ZAPPED for snubbing an investors' proxy resolution. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals is making the giant retailer pay nearly $55,000 in legal costs spent by institutional investors who failed to get the resolution included in the 1992 proxy. Several organizations--including a union and three religious groups--wanted Wal-Mart to report on its affirmative-action and other equal-employment policies.

Now, $55,000 isn't much for a company with billions in annual sales. The plaintiffs are satisfied they made their point. Says their lawyer, Cornish Hitchcock: "The cost of ignoring shareholders just went up."

Other retailers, such as J.C. Penney, honored the investors' request and even urged a yes vote. It passed, and Penney issued an employment-practices report. Wal-Mart, which deemed the issue an internal matter, included the resolution in 1993 and 1994--after the investors sued. (The proposal lost.) Wal-Mart says the chain already has answered many of the plaintiffs' questions in a report to its shareholders.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABI Linda Himelstein


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