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Reebok Accused of Violating Law [05/18/2006]
A class-action lawsuit recently filed claims that Reebok International violated a California law forbidding retailers to request personal information such as phone numbers from credit card customers. The alleged violations occurred at California outlet stores Reebok and its sibling brands Rockport, Ralph Lauren Footwear and Greg Norman Stores.

‘‘The rationale for the law was that merchants should not be able to build marketing lists from shoppers’ credit card transactions. At least 11 states have laws that restrict the types of personal information retailers can require from credit card users," said the director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2004 on behalf of a customer named Michael Stewart, and seeks $1,000 for each customer who provided the information to Reebok International. The suit is scheduled to go to trial in October. A judge certified the complaint against Reebok as a class action in December, 2005, and allowed lawyers to contact additional plaintiffs until June 3, 2006.

Unlike other states that prohibit retailers from requiring the information, California prohibits store employees from even asking for a phone number. ‘‘The mere fact that the companies asked for the information triggers the violation," said a lawyer representing the shoppers.

The California law was enacted in 1991. Relatively few lawsuits were filed based on the law for more than a decade until retailers developed more sophisticated marketing databases. ‘‘Technology has developed to a point where stores can track customers much better than they were in the past. In many cases, shoppers want to sign up to be on a mailing list and get special offers" said a lawyer for the plaintiffs. He continued "this law is so broadly designed it does not permit retailers to even ask whether somebody would like to provide their information."

The lawsuit is open to California shoppers who were asked for their phone number at any California Reebok, Ralph Lauren Footwear or Greg Norman store.

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