WHAT ABOUT THE LADS?: When Wal-Mart yanked Maxim, Stuff and FHM off its shelves last week, the world’s largest company said the decision was driven by customer complaints. But the buzz among magazine circulation directors throughout the industry is that Wal-Mart may have scapegoated the lad trio in an effort to clean up its image and head off what would be the world’s largest class-action lawsuit.

The week before its decision, on April 28, the plaintiffs in Dukes vs. Wal-Mart filed a motion seeking class-action status for their suit alleging the retailer sexually discriminated against its past and present female employees. If granted, they will be able to sue for lost wages since 1998 on behalf of more than 1.5 million women — an amount that would soar into the billions, their counsel said.

This story first appeared in the May 16, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Former employees in the suit have publicly testified to boorish acts by male superiors that sound downright laddish — district meetings held at Hooters; trips to strip clubs on the drive to headquarters (one male manager allegedly proposed he, his counterpart and a stripper have a “threesome out back”), and advice like “blow the cobwebs off [your] makeup.”

“They’re cleaning up their image while saying it’s the raunchiness of the magazines that’s at fault,” claimed one circulation director, in a comment echoed by others. “They’re using them as a scapegoat. There’s no complaint level that could have possibly exceeded what the sales were. This decision would never have happened without the class-action suit.”

The plaintiffs’ counsel is open to the possibility there’s a link. “Judging by their covers, those magazines might certainly be viewed by some as portraying women in a way [Wal-Mart] wouldn’t want to reinforce, given their current problems,” said Joseph Sellers, an attorney at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, which is arguing the lawsuit. “But whatever Wal-Mart does with the magazines is hardly reflective of how they treat women in the workplace.”

The hearing on class-action status will be in federal court in San Francisco on July 25. Wal-Mart has denied the allegations of sexual discrimination.

In an e-mail Thursday, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said, “We have had customers around the country that have consistently been telling us they are uncomfortable with us carrying these magazines….It was a judgment call on our part.” — Greg Lindsay

STAFFING UP: The as-yet-unnamed Hearst prototype being helmed by Mandi Norwood and former Harper’s Bazaar publisher Cynthia Lewis has made its third major hire. Coming on board the women’s style magazine as creative director is Nora Sheehan, who worked at Hearst until August 2002 as the art director for House Beautiful under Marian McEvoy. She’d also worked at Elle Decor as the art director with McEvoy after a four-year stint at Elle. Also at Hearst, Marie Claire has poached Maxim deputy editor Rosie Amodio for the same title there. She will oversee the features department of the magazine. — Jacob Bernstein

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