Thursday, February 03, 2000

Lawsuit just an invitation to go shopping




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I admit I was hoping for a windfall.

        The bold type on the six-page document said it was a Class Action Settlement Notice. But I have been misled before by the contents of my mailbox. I suspected the fine print would inform me that I had been selected to buy faux diamonds or win a free trip to a swampland resort.

        But this was legitimate. A genuine opportunity to participate in a lawsuit as the plaintiff.

        “Your rights may be affected in a lawsuit known as W.R. Lippincott and M.S. Berlin v. Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation.” Now, I am allowing myself to get a little bit excited. This is a defendant with deep, deep pockets. And Mr. Lauren apparently has done something terrible, something really bad, something actionable, something expensive to me.

Exploding jeans
        I am wondering whether my Polo jeans will explode if they are hit by a Pinto going 70 miles per hour. Are hideously expensive knit shirts hazardous to my health? Will denim sheets make you pregnant? Whatever it is, I stand ready to accept reparations.

        The claims administrator (I like the sound of that) is corresponding with “all persons who purchased any merchandise at Polo outlet stores during July 15, 1991 through Jan. 10, 2000.” Well, I know exactly when I managed to get on the list of plaintiffs.

        During a shameful chapter in my personal history about a year ago, I drove 60 miles up Interstate 71 to the Jeffersonville Outlet Stores for an orgy of Eddie Bauer, Polo, Brooks Brothers, Bugle Boy, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Gap, Izod, Coach, Bass, Lenox, Pfaltzgraff, Waterford and Wedgwood.

        Some people get depressed during the gray of winter. They travel to sunny, faraway places. I have found it cheaper to simply shop. Sometimes I can buy a temporary cure by going to Sam's Club and coming home with a lifetime supply of mustard. But for genuine, long-term relief, I have to purchase overpriced clothing. In quantity.

        Possibly this is why outlet stores were invented.

        I did so much damage in Jeffersonville that Visa called our house to make sure our credit card had not been stolen.

        “We noticed an unusual amount of activity on your card” is how they put it when they talked to my husband.

        He was completely baffled, of course, because I had already burned the receipts.

Primed for outrage
        This could be a snag because I think I need my receipts to collect damages for this dreadful thing that Ralph Lauren has done to me.

        Or, possibly, not done.

        “The court has not finally determined the merits of the claims made by the plaintiffs.”

        One wonders what the claims might be. I mean, I am prepared to be outraged, if only they'd feed me a little more information.

        To get this, it appears, that I must travel to the Sussex County Courthouse in Georgetown, Del., where I can “inspect the pleadings, the stipulation, the Orders” and “a more detailed statement of the matters involved in this litigation.”

        I am warned sternly to write or telephone the court.

        So I called one of “my” attorneys, a very friendly person named Ann M. Caldwell whose office is in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. She told me Polo is accused of stocking its outlet stores with merchandise that is not authentic Polo and furthermore that the price represented as the retail price is not a price that anybody ever paid in any retail store.

        “In other words,” she said, “people think they're getting a substantial bargain. And they're not.”

        She says they sent out a million notices like mine and have no idea how many will join the class action.

        What do we get if we win?

        “A discount,” she replies.

        Where?

        “At Ralph Lauren's.”

        And here I thought we were mad at him.

        E-mail laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

PULFER ARCHIVE