Reese Witherspoon Accused of Deceiving Teachers With Dress Giveaway: California Case Tests How Clear Fine Print Needs to Be

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When Laryssa Galvez, Judith Lindley and Natalie Anderson signed up for a giveaway on Instagram, they thought they would automatically receive dresses from Hollywood star Reese Witherspoon’s clothing line.

It was only after having turned over their personal and employment data that they discovered the Draper James promotion wasn’t as generous as it sounded.

“Dear Teachers: We want to say thank you. During quarantine, we see you working harder than ever to educate our children to show our gratitude Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress,” gushed the April 2 Instagram post.

In response to not being one of the winners, Galvez, Lindley and Anderson filed a class-action lawsuit in the Central District of California on June 4.

“Anyone damaged in California is entitled to benefit from the California remedies,” said Andrew S. Pollis, professor of law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. “That can sometimes be a complex analysis when you have interstate transactions that are then the subject of a lawsuit governed by state law. Paragraph 17 of the complaint seems to limit the class to California residents, with some wiggle room.”

Unbeknownst to the plaintiffs, Witherspoon’s Draper James collection had only 250 dresses to gift.

“Consumers provided property in terms of their sensitive personal employment information and copies of their employee IDs to Draper James and suffered damage by not receiving the benefit of the bargain,” wrote plaintiff’s attorney Alan Mansfield in the opening brief. “Plaintiffs reasonably acted in positive response to these claims and were deceived. Plaintiffs and others would not have signed up for this offer and provided the personal information Draper James demanded if the true facts had been timely disclosed.”

Allegations include breach of contract, unjust enrichment and violations of the Consumer’s Legal Remedies Act, which prohibits deceptive trade practices.

“The Consumer’s Legal Remedies Act authorizes a number of different remedies, including actual damages, treble damages, and punitive damages, depending on the nature of the misconduct,” Mr. Pollis told PacerMonitor News.

The class-action lawsuit alleges the Google document didn’t disclose that the giveaway was a lottery. Some 1 million teachers applied on Instagram, according to the complaint.

“The offer apparently disclosed a limited number of dresses as “while supplies last” so the plaintiffs were on notice that Reese might run out of dresses and arguably disclosed personal info despite that risk,” said Mr. Pollis. “On the other hand, limiting a nationwide offer to 250 dresses—but not disclosing that there were only 250 dresses—seems deceptive.” 

Counsel for Draper, James Theane Evangelis, said the fact that a free dress could not be provided to every teacher who responded was disclosed and is no basis for a lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is an unjust attempt to exploit Draper James’ good intentions to honor the teacher community by gifting hundreds of free dresses,” Evangelis said in a response by email.

The complaint further alleges the defendants are using this massive data base of personal and employer information.

“Plaintiffs have requested, pursuant to the applicable provisions of state and federal privacy laws, that Defendants agree to immediately stop using or selling, segregate, take off servers and encrypt all personally identifying information that was gathered in response to this program so as to ensure that it is not subject to cyber-attack or breach,” Mansfield wrote.

Demand for relief includes restitution and disgorgement to plaintiffs and class members in an amount to be determined at trial.

“If a court finds that Draper James used false pretenses to gain access to and then profit from private information, the plaintiffs are likely to prevail even without the California Consumer Privacy Act but the Act does provide statutory damages, which are probably higher than what would otherwise be available—and certainly easier to prove because they’re basically automatic,” Mr. Pollis said.

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