A Highland Park customer sought to return $1.4 million in merchandise because her husband was sleeping with the sales associate. A deal has been reached — but its terms are secret
by CHRISTOPHER WYNN
Neiman Marcus has settled a high-profile lawsuit that tested its reputation for graciously taking back almost anything customers would want to return. Details of the agreement are sealed, according to documents filed in Dallas County state district court, and final disposition of the case is scheduled for Thursday.
The resolution comes after the judge in the case said Neiman Marcus provided a “totally incredible” answer to a key question.
Highland Park heiress Patricia Walker sued the fabled Dallas-based retailer in September 2010 after unsuccessfully trying to return $1.4 million in clothing, shoes, handbags and jewelry purchased over several years. FD Luxe, the luxury lifestyle magazine of The Dallas Morning News, chronicled the story in a 12-page feature in its September 2012 issue.
Walker alleged that her then-husband used a joint account during their marriage to buy much of the merchandise — while she was convalescing from a car crash and he was having an affair with their longtime Neiman Marcus NorthPark Center saleswoman.
There was no dispute that the affair occurred, but Walker’s husband Robert Tennison — he had filed for divorce in March 2010; they eventually ended their marriage — insisted that it had begun only recently. Neiman’s said it didn’t know of the liaison and had no obligation to take back the goods. In an early court filing, it called Walker’s claims “nothing more than the ventings of a woman scorned by the infidelity of her former husband that have spilled over from her highly contentious divorce.”
A major sticking point in the case was the company’s policy governing returns of in-store purchases and purchases made from its premier catalog, called The Book. During a November 2012 hearing, Neiman Marcus attorney Walter Herring argued that no written policy existed when Walker’s purchases were made and that return decisions were made by individual store managers.
Judge Ken Molberg asked, “How does the manager find out about this unwritten policy if it’s not somewhere? Is it just kind of word of mouth?”
Herring’s response: “I believe that must be, Your Honor, because they say there is no written policy.”
“Boy,” replied Molberg, “I find that totally incredible.”
Walker’s lawyer, Mark Ticer, produced a printout from Neiman’s website that addressed returns of store and The Book purchases. It began: “You may return for credit, at any time, merchandise with which you are not completely satisfied.”
Herring said Neiman’s didn’t know why that language was on the website. He told the judge it was online “for about five to six months” and has since been taken down.
About a week after the hearing, Neiman’s parted ways with Herring for undisclosed reasons and hired new counsel.
Ticer soon took the deposition of Randy Vines, a Neiman Marcus loss-prevention official who helped write employee training manuals. “The company will accept returns for virtually any reason,” Vines testified in describing one manual’s content. “That’s been our global store policy, again, since Stanley Marcus was around.”
Vines said the online language came to his attention when an Atlanta customer cited it — and presented a printout of it, from the company’s website — while trying to return a “four- or five-year-old pair of shoes.” The customer said, according to Vines, “I want to return these old shoes; I don’t like them anymore.” Neiman’s accepted the return, he said.
The lawsuit also named as a defendant Favi Lo, the saleswoman who had the affair with Walker’s ex, Tennison, and still works at the NorthPark store. She and other Neiman’s representatives met with Walker for mediation in April, court records show. They signed a four-page, handwritten agreement and canceled this month’s pending jury trial.
Afterward, however, a new dispute arose over a formalized version of the deal. According to a Neiman’s court filing: “Walker has refused to sign the agreement — a document she last edited and approved — and she has not explained why.”
This matter sent the parties back to court June 20. No one involved will say what happened or discuss anything else related to the case, and the transcript is sealed.
Dallas Morning News staff writer Brooks Egerton contributed to this report