El Segundo, CA. Dentist Sues Wal-Mart For Stealing His In-Store Clinic Idea
Ask almost anyone who has sued Wal-Mart over the past half century, and they will tell you that getting justice out of the giant retailer is like pulling teeth. That may be a good sign for a California dentist who claims that Wal-Mart conspired with others to steal his concept for a dental clinic inside of big box stores.
Just before Christmas, Dr. Kianor Shah filed a lawsuit in Riverside County, California Superior Court, naming Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Comfort Care Dental Management (CCDM), of Delaware, as defendants charged with counts of civil conspiracy, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract and confidence, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and other "violation of laws, requirements, and regulations."
According to Dr. Shah, in late 2008, he developed plans for opening low-cost, full service dental offices in big-box retailers like Wal-Mart. Dr. Shah presented the idea to Wal-Mart, which initially committed to trying Dr. Shah's in-store clinics. But the retailer subsequently told Shah it had changed its mind, and had no interest in dental clinics.
But Dr. Shah claims that Wal-Mart then revealed his plans to Kent Reeves, former Wal-Mart Vice President of New Business Development, and Ken Antos, a restaurant business partner. In 2012, Wal-Mart opened a dental clinic inside its store in Moreno Valley, California, managed by Christopher Comfort of CCDM, Kent Reeves and Ken Antos. Shah says in his litigation that the Moreno Valley clinic was based almost entirely on his specifications, even down to the type of dental chairs used.
In one of the more bizarre twists in the story, in late 2011, Dr. Shah moved from Illinois to California. "Needing a job," the lawsuit says, Dr. Shah responded to a Craiglist add placed by Comfort Care for a dentist for an in-store clinic at a Wal-Mart. In April of 2012, Shah was hired to work in the clinic that he had conceptualized. Dr.Shah writes that he "quickly realized" that Comfort's dental office was "almost an exact replica" of the dental office that Shah had shown Wal-Mart almost three years earlier.
At the grand opening of the Wal-Mart dental clinic, Shah said it was "crystal clear" to him that the defendants had "stolen" his business model. When Wal-Mart saw Dr.Shah at the opening ceremony, they informed Comfort that he had "unknowingly hired the very man" that had designed the dental clinic. The defendants then agreed to send Shah home, on the pretext that he refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. By the time he got home, Shah said he was "greeted with an email telling him that his services were no longer needed."
In his litigation, Shah says that Wal-Mart "repeatedly lied... about its plans to open dental offices in Wal-Mart stores across the country. Shah has asked for a trial by jury, and for compensatory and punitive damages.
What you can do: In response to this lawsuit, a Wal-Mart spokesman told The City Wire that his company "did not misappropriate any information from the plaintiff in this case. Simply put, his (Shah's) allegations are baseless and misguided. Offering our customers access to services they want, like independent medical, banking and restaurants, enables us to deliver on our commitment to offer one-stop shopping. We will continue to provide products and services that our customers are interested in and this includes leasing space to others when it makes sense."
Readers are urged to contact Wal-Mart's Ethics Office for the U.S.A. at 1-800-963-8442 with the following message:
"I think Wal-Mart Ethics should look into Wal-Mart's ethics in allegedly 'stealing' the idea for an in-store dental clinic from the dentist who designed the concept. Not that I would ever entrust my dental care to a company like Wal-Mart -- but it concerns me that your company would lie and steal to make a profit off another person's idea.
If these charges are true -- and Wal-Mart should hire an independent investigator to get to the 'root' of the problem -- then Wal-Mart should publicly apologize to this dentist and offer him a good settlement out of court."