A college professor in Montana is accusing Walmart of libel, after he says the store deliberately listed his profession as “CLEAN TOILETS” on a state-issued fishing license.
In a lawsuit [PDF] filed last week in a Gallatin County, MT, court, an assistant professor at Montana State University says he went to a Walmart in Bozeman to acquire a fishing license.
State law requires applicants for fishing licenses to provide photo and ID and to describe their occupation. This information is then input by the Walmart employee into the state’s database.
Even though the professor, originally from Zambia, told the Walmart employee that he worked at MSU and showed him his university ID card with the employment status of “Faculty/Professional,” the “CLEAN TOILETS” occupation description was entered into the system.
Could it have been a slip of the hand or the click of a wrong button? Not according to the complaint, which says that the information in the occupation field must be manually entered. Additionally, the lawsuit notes that entering false information into the state’s Fish Wildlife & Parks database is a violation of the agreement that authorized retailers must make with the state in order to issue licenses.
Rather than a mistake, the lawsuit contends that the Walmart employee made a deliberate attempt to expose Plaintiff to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy.”
Unfortunately, the alleged insult wasn’t noticed until 2016, after the professor returned to the Walmart to have his license renewed. He once again told a store employee about his job at MSU and provided his identification, yet the occupation field remained unchanged.
The “CLEAN TOILETS” information was subsequently noticed by the professor’s teaching assistant, who pointed it out in the presence of students.
The professor returned to the Walmart store and requested a corrected license and a written apology from Walmart. While the information on the license was fixed, the plaintiff says that no apology ever materialized.
According to ACLU of Montana, which is representing the professor in this lawsuit, a complaint was filed with Montana’s Human Rights Bureau but the retailer has not yet made an effort to address the incident.
“It’s unfortunate that we have had to sue to protect Prof. Kalonde’s rights, but the failure of Walmart to address these issues is on them,” said Jim Taylor, Legal Director for the ACLU of Montana. “We are still waiting to discuss the matter if they come to the negotiating table.”
In a statement to KBZK-TV, a rep for Walmart said, “To our knowledge an administrative process to resolve this with Dr. Kalonde is ongoing. We’ve not been served with the lawsuit, but we take the claims seriously and will respond appropriately with the court.”