March 29, 2007 -- Julie Roehm, the former Wal-Mart marketing executive who was fired for allegedly having an affair with her subordinate, is striking back.
Accusing the world's biggest retailer of pursuing Roehm in a "vindictive and mean-spirited fashion," her lawyers charge that Wal-Mart's counterclaim, which includes the e-mail evidence, is "nothing more than a smear tactic."
The statement from attorneys John F. Schaefer and B. Andrew Rifkin goes on to accuse Wal-Mart of taking portions of the e-mails out of context and "putting its own spin on them to create sensationalism. It is a shame that Wal-Mart's repudiation of change -- and its determination to legitimize its old ways of doing business by purging the advocates of change -- has turned in such an ugly and hostile direction."
Wal-Mart's counterclaim was filed last week in response to Roehm's lawsuit against the company, which she pursued shortly after getting fired in December.
A Woman Scorned
A woman scorned and the havoc she wreaks is a persistent theme in literature and life.
From Medea and Roxie Hart to Britney Spears and Jennifer Aniston, those women who are spurned by their lovers and who go on to get their revenge become iconic characters.
Add Shelley Womack to the list. She's the spurned wife who teamed with Wal-Mart to punish one of the retailing giant's top executives.
The e-mails that Womack discovered on husband Sean Womack's home computer are some of the key pieces of evidence in Wal-Mart's counterclaim against former marketing exec Julie Roehm.
Some of the buttoned-down retailer's evidence of an alleged affair between Sean Womack and Roehm consists of racy e-mails between the co-workers. One of Roehm's romantic messages: "I hate not being able to call you or write you. I think about us together all of the time. Little moments like watching your face when you kiss me."
Last December, Roehm was fired by the company and she promptly sued them, claiming that it failed to give her severance and didn't return some personal belongings. Monday, the company struck back with its countersuit, alleging that Roehm had a romantic relationship with Sean Womack, who was her subordinate, and showed favoritism to an ad agency competing for a $580 million account with Wal-Mart.
The evidence threatens to undo Roehm's case, in which she has consistently denied having had a romance with Womack, which would be a clear breach of Wal-Mart's policies.
And how did Wal-Mart get its hands on some of the semi-salacious e-mails? Shelley Womack.
Last Sept. 7, she learned that her husband "had set up a secret, personal e-mail account that he used to communicate with Roehm," according to the counterclaim, which describes scenes that belong more in a daytime soap opera than a legal document. When she started reading some of the romantic e-mails, Shelley called Sean and "demanded that he come home immediately."
When he got home, Shelley confronted him with a printout of one of the e-mails. Sean tried to grab it away from her and "when Shelley went to another part of the house to hide the printed material, he went to the computer and attempted to delete all the e-mail messages from his account," according to the counterclaim.
Sean soon admitted to his wife that he was having a sexual relationship with Roehm, sharing several details "including when the affair began and the number of times they engaged in sexual intercourse while traveling on Wal-Mart business." Although he told Shelley that he would end the affair, he later changed his story and the couple separated.
Although Sean believed that his job was safe since he was using his personal e-mail account on his home computer -- once writing to Roehm that "my gmail is secure.… write to me. tell me something. anything …I feel the need to be inside of your head if I cannot be near you" -- not counting on his wife's curiosity.
Around the time that Roehm filed her lawsuit, Wal-Mart lawyers contacted Shelley and obtained the e-mails from her.
And Roehm believes that Wal-Mart coerced Shelley into handing over the e-mails by threatening to withhold Sean's $200,000 bonus.
"I wasn't on the call, but from what I understand, he [the Wal-Mart attorney] called and said that Sean hadn't been paid his bonus and if they could turn it over, then he would be paid," Roehm told ABCNEWS.com in February.
Mona Williams, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said it was "not true" that a lawyer for the company had made any threats to Shelley Womack, but declined to comment further.
Since the counterclaim was filed, Roehm has declined to comment. In a previous interview, she insisted that she did not have a romantic relationship with Sean Womack.
"Sean is a great friend, not a romantic friend," she told ABCNEWS.com in February. "He's like a brother to me. Some of my very best friends are men. I know that even in this day and age, it's still hard to think that a woman and a man can be friends."
In a statement, her attorneys described the countersuit as a "smear tactic" and claimed that the e-mails were taken out of context. "There can be only one explanation for Wal-Mart's attempts to file a counterclaim (unless, of course, Wal-Mart hates its money and enjoys paying lawyers), and that is that Wal-Mart wants to try to destroy Ms. Roehm."
And her husband, Michael Roehm, who told reporters a few months ago that the couple was not getting divorced, was not available for comment. In a brief conversation last February, Shelley Womack declined to confirm or deny her role in the case or whether her husband's bonus had been discussed by an attorney for Wal-Mart.
Other evidence cited by the company included accounts by co-workers and friends, one of whom once saw Womack pinning Roehm against a wall "in an intimate pose" in a bar in Fayetteville, Ark. Another friend recounted that Roehm had once admitted to an "emotional affair," and that the co-workers had "fooled around" a "couple of times" and that "she knew she would be fired if the company were aware of her actions with Womack."
Despite the lawsuit, Womack and Roehm are still hitting the road and working together as a team to cultivate new clients. As the counterclaim was making headlines on Tuesday, the duo gave a presentation at the Online Media Marketing and Advertising conference in Hollywood, Calif.
The pair declined to answer questions about the lawsuit or their relationship, although the audience was buzzing about it. "It was the elephant in the room," said Tobi Elkin, the editor at large of MediaPost, which hosted the conference. "Everyone was talking about it."
The scandal hasn't seemed to change Roehm's feelings for Womack. She showed up at the conference only on the condition that Womack appear with her. "She wouldn't' speak without him," said Elkin. "She was hellbent on marketing them together. We wanted her alone, but she wouldn't do it."