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In the two years since Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., decided to create a separate legal department for its subsidiary, Sam’s Club, the two retailers have faced a number of government investigations and private lawsuits, targeting everything from environmental problems to labor practices. In January the first GC of Sam’s Club, Kirk Forrest, stepped down. He was replaced by John Peter “J.P.” Suarez, head of enforcement and compliance assurance at the Environmental Protection Agency. Two weeks after Suarez resigned from the EPA and said he was going to Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart announced that it had reached a settlement with the agency over Clean Air Act violations. The company agreed to pay $400,000 and to order Sam’s Club to stop selling appliances using ozone-depleting refrigerants. According to the EPA, Suarez was not involved in the case. Representatives from the agency and Sam’s Club say that the proximity of the two events is nothing more than coincidence. At press time Suarez was moving to Bentonville, Arkansas, where Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart are headquartered, and was unavailable for comment. Suarez’s departure from the EPA, after just 17 months on the job, coincided with a miniexodus of EPA officials following agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman’s resignation last summer. Two other enforcement officials resigned in January, citing the administration’s efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act. (In December the U.S. district court of appeals in Washington, D.C., blocked weakened pollution controls proposed by the administration from taking effect for fear of “irreparable harm” to the environment.) But in a resignation letter he wrote to President George Bush, Suarez said his decision to step down was not intended to protest the administration’s enforcement record. The letter was quoted in an EPA press release. In an interview with Forrest when he originally took the GC position, Wal-Mart’s legal eagles planned to keep litigation issues in their shop, leaving the Sam’s Club lawyers to deal with issues like real estate, trademarks, and other day-to-day matters [On the Job, December 2002]. After near-constant controversies at the EPA, these daily legal issues at the country’s second-largest warehouse club may be a welcome respite for Suarez.

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