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Wal-Mart Fires Worker Over Eavesdropping

Wal-Mart fires systems technician for recording of phone conversations and for intercepting text messages without authorization.

(New York) Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Monday that it has fired a Wal-Mart systems technician for recording phone conversations between the company's PR office and a newspaper reporter and for intercepting text messages without authorization.

The move is the result of an internal investigation that began on Jan. 11 when someone expressed concerns to the world's biggest retailer about the matter, Wal-Mart said. It did not identify the technician.

Wal-Mart's internal investigation initially found that the technician had monitored and recorded phone conversations between Wal-Mart's public relations staffers and a reporter from The New York Times. The recordings were made over a four-month period between September 2006 and January 2006. Wal-Mart said it notified The New York Times earlier Monday.

A New York Times spokeswoman, Diane McNulty, said Monday that the reporter involved was retail writer Michael Barbaro. She said the newspaper does not plan "to take any legal action at this time."

During the investigation, the company said it discovered that, in separate instances, the same technician had intercepted text messages and pages including communications that did not involve Wal-Mart employees.

It said the interception of text messages and pages that does not involve Wal-Mart associates is not authorized by company policies under any circumstances.

Wal-Mart said it had notified its own audit committee of the allegations on Jan. 12 and on the next day, attorneys for the company notified the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.

Wal-Mart said that it has kept the U.S. Attorney informed through the course of its internal investigation and last week advised him that the investigation was near completion.

On Thursday, it said the U.S. Attorney notified Wal-Mart that his office would conduct an investigation of the pager intercepts and the recording of the phone calls.

The FBI in Washington, D.C., said the agency is reviewing the information from Wal-Mart "to determine if there was a violation of federal law and if the FBI has jurisdiction."

In addition to firing the technician, Wal-Mart said it has also taken disciplinary action against two management associates for failure to carry out their management duties.

"The company believes that these pager intercepts and the recordings of these telephone calls were wrong and has taken a number of actions to further strengthen our policies and controls," said Mona Williams a company spokeswoman in a statement.

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