Wielding its influence as a big shareholder, CalSTRS sued officers and directors of Wal-Mart on Thursday over allegations that the big retailer bribed officials in Mexico.
The California State Teachers' Retirement System, in a lawsuit filed in Delaware, said Wal-Mart's executives and directors exposed the company to litigation, investigations and potential liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
That law forbids U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials.
The suit is somewhat unusual for CalSTRS. While it's the nation's second largest public pension fund, it tends to take a back seat on big shareholder activism issues to the largest public U.S. fund - CalPERS, the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
The CalSTRS suit is the first by a large institutional investor over the Wal-Mart bribery scandal, according to the New York Times.
CalSTRS owns 5.3 million Wal-Mart shares, worth $313.5 million, said pension fund spokesman Michael Sicilia.
The suit is called a derivative action, in which a shareholder sues on behalf of a corporation. The defendants are current and former officers and directors.
"CalSTRS is seeking to remedy the damages sustained by Wal-Mart as a result of alleged gross misconduct by Wal-Mart's executive officers and directors," said the pension fund's chief executive, Jack Ehnes, in a press release. "The focus of this action, unprecedented in CalSTRS history, is corporate governance reform."
The allegations against Wal-Mart surfaced in a story last month in the New York Times. The paper reported that Wal-Mart investigators found evidence that the company's Mexican subsidiary had bribed officials of that government. The Times also said Wal-Mart officials in Arkansas shut down the investigation.
In the lawsuit, CalSTRS said two Wal-Mart executives "engaged in opportunistic stock trades" after the Times started inquiring about Mexico but before the story was published.
Asked about the CalSTRS suit, Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Rossiter said: "We take our responsibility to our shareholders very seriously. We are reviewing the lawsuit closely and are thoroughly investigating the issues that have been raised."
The suit was filed in Chancery Court in Delaware, where Wal-Mart is technically headquartered.