Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon and her fashion company, Draper James, have been accused of running a bogus dress giveaway for teachers as a way to collect their personal information for future marketing, according to a recently-filed lawsuit.
The clothing company first announced the giveaway on social media in April as a way to thank teachers for their efforts amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
A series of posts on the company’s Instagram account on April 2 described how the company “would like to give teachers a free dress,” as a way to show its appreciation.
“I have been so encouraged by the ways people are showing up for each other,” the third post states, signed by Witherspoon with her own Instagram account tagged. “Particularly the teachers. During quarantine, teachers are broadcasting lessons from their own homes and figuring out new remote-learning technology and platforms on the fly, all while continuing to educate and connect with our kids. Advocating for the children of the world is no easy task, so I wanted to show teachers a little extra love right now.”
But the lawsuit, filed last week by three people seeking class-action status, alleges the purported giveaway was actually a “scam” limited to 250 dresses, despite receiving nearly one million “acceptances of their offer,” according to the court papers, which were published online by Law360.
“Upon receipt of close to a million acceptances of their offer, Defendants suddenly renounced their offer and instead claimed it was a lottery drawing, provided consumers a product coupon to encourage sales of their products… and sent class members numerous product advertisements even after the promotion was over,” the suit states, “all while having exponentially increased the size and value of their customer marketing database in ways that saved them hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in marketing costs.”
A rep for Witherspoon did not respond to FOX Business’ request for comment. Attorneys for Draper James called the lawsuit "an unjust attempt to exploit Draper James' good intentions to honor the teacher community by gifting hundreds of free dresses."
"The fact that supplies were limited, such that a free dress could not be provided to every teacher who responded, was disclosed and is no basis for a lawsuit," Theane Evangelis, an attorney for Draper James', said in a statement. "Draper James looks forward to defending this case, to continuing its efforts to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions made by teachers during this time of need, and to being vindicated in court."
But in April, after news broke that Draper James would not provide every teacher with a dress. Page Six reported that the company would be contributing funds to DonorsChoose to be put toward "resources such as books, notebooks, pencils, art supplies, activity kits and food, all shipped directly to their students’ homes."
Last week's lawsuit accuses Draper James and Witherspoon of “taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic” through the campaign, and references how the company then tried to “placate” customers by claiming to have made an unspecified contribution.
Though the promotion, the lawsuit states, the company offered “to provide a new dress for teachers who signed up with Draper James and provided their personal contact information… such as their teacher ID information, their teacher work email addresses, and even copies of their employee work badges – all highly sensitive information that could be exploited by cyber-criminals or used or sold by Defendants (which, it turns out, they did).”
A number of people who had signed up for the promotion later returned to the Instagram posts to express anger over the allegedly misleading post.
“Most teachers were not aware they were entering a “raffle” or “lottery” type of thing,” wrote Instagram user @rs_to_c. “Be truthful, this is NOT the time for this BS. How disappointing.”
Another Instagram user, @ctcunning65, wrote: “What a wonderful marketing ploy this was! So disappointed that you used this tactic to get email address. Teachers can’t afford dress that cost $150.”
This report was updated to include a statement from Draper James' counsel, Theane Evangelis.