March 19, 2020
Mega-retailer is being sued by the Center for Inquiry over its marketing of homeopathic fake medicines
Walmart is attempting to quash a consumer-protection lawsuit over its sale of homeopathic fake medicine with a deceptive motion to dismiss that tries to prejudice the court against the nonreligious organization bringing the case. The Center for Inquiry, which filed the lawsuit last year in the District of Columbia, submitted its statement of opposition to the motion this week.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI), which advocates for reason and science, is charging Walmart with committing wide-scale deceptive practices and endangering the health of its customers through its sale and marketing of homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic products are useless in the treatment of any ailment or condition. Walmart knows this but markets the products to customers in a way designed to trick them into thinking homeopathy is effective. Unconscionably, Walmart makes no meaningful distinction on its shelves or online between medicine scientifically proven to work and sham homeopathic treatments.
Rather than simply answer this charge directly, Walmart’s motion to dismiss seeks to delegitimize CFI’s standing in this case by mischaracterizing CFI as an organization devoted solely to the promotion of secular humanism. In fact, CFI has been working to protect consumers from sham medicine for more than 40 years.
As pointed out in its response [download PDF], CFI is home to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publisher of the foundational magazine Skeptical Inquirer, and advocates for science-based policies through direct lobbying and grassroots activism.
“Let’s not ignore the sinister undertone of Walmart’s claims,” said Nicholas Little, CFI’s Vice President and Legal Counsel. “Walmart is hoping to tar CFI with negative stereotypes about atheism. If we were a group of Christians or Muslims who felt driven by our faith to oppose fraudulent pseudoscience and fake medicine, dismissing us for our beliefs would be unconscionable. But Walmart has no qualms about fomenting anti-atheist bias.”
Also in its motion to dismiss, Walmart bizarrely claims that it bears no responsibility for how its products are displayed to consumers, and that the placement and layout of products has no impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions. In its response, CFI says this claim “beggars belief.”
“For Walmart to assert that they have no control over how it stocks its shelves is like McDonald’s claiming they have no role in deciding what goes on their Dollar Menu or Apple claiming it has no control over how items are arranged in an Apple Store.” said Little. “Stocking products to sell to customers is literally what Walmart does. Retailers spend billions of dollars to understand the impact of each product placed in a consumer’s field of view. And undoubtedly one thing they’ve learned is that the most profitable way to sell fake medicine like homeopathy is to place it alongside real medicine.”
CFI is also prosecuting a similar suit in the District of Columbia against the country’s biggest pharmacy chain, CVS, again challenging the presentation and marketing of homeopathic products in their stores. CFI is currently awaiting the judge’s decision on CVS’s Motion to Dismiss in that case.
The Center for Inquiry gratefully acknowledges the Stiefel Freethought Foundation and its ongoing support of this work.