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A month later, one of the managers Shimaji had alerted about the dumping called Shimaji into her office and terminated her, officially for showing another employee who forgot to punch the time clock for a lunch break how to use a computer to retroactively punch out, thus preventing the store from erroneously being hit with a $50 fine for having the employee work more than five hours without a break. Shimaji tried to explain what she’d done, but, she says, the manager looked her in the eye and called her “a threat to the company.”
Wal-Mart did not respond to written and telephoned requests for comment for this story.
After losing her job, Shimaji quickly found new work as a shipping-and-receiving manager with a company that makes MP3 players. She also was the star witness in what became a massive investigation of Wal-Mart’s illegal dumping of hazardous waste throughout California, providing depositions to both the DA’s office and the FBI. She never heard another word about the investigation and was never called to testify. She only learned of the $27.6 million settlement when she read about it in the newspaper.
Although it wasn’t publicized, both Valtier and another Wal-Mart worker, Richard Samedra, were criminally prosecuted by the DA’s office; they spent 90 days and 30 days in jail, respectively. According to Susan Kang Schroeder, the DA’s chief of staff, both men confessed to the crime (which in any case was preserved on security videoape), and Valtier did claim that he’d been ordered to dump the waste by his supervisor, but subsequent investigation suggested otherwise. “We investigated that claim; however, the manager denied it,” said Schroeder. “And we had an independent third-party witness who refuted it.”
Shimaji only learned that Valtier had been put behind bars when she bumped into him while shopping at a supermarket in Foothill Ranch. “You ruined my life,” she says he told her. “I just got out of jail and will be on probation for five years. You turned my life upside-down.” Attempts to locate Valtier for an interview were unsuccessful.
“I’m pissed,” Shimaji adds. “I’m disappointed. Why wasn’t anyone else prosecuted? How come nobody else got fired or sent to jail? These two kids were just doing what they were told to do, and nobody else faced any consequences.”
This article appeared in print as "Always a Cover-Up. Always: The whistleblower who caught Foothill Ranch Wal-Mart employees illegally dumping hazardous waste wants to know why the DA didn’t prosecute the higher-ups."