Reese Witherspoon's clothing company, Draper James, is being sued by a group of women in California over an Instagram giveaway in April that spiraled out of control.
The company offered to give "free dresses" to teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it soon became overwhelmed after nearly 1 million teachers reportedly entered their information for a free dress. After the company clarified it only had 250 dresses to give out, teachers turned against them en masse online.
Now, a group of those teachers are alleging in the class action lawsuit it was all a marketing stunt to get their personal information, something the company's lawyer denies.
On April 2, Draper James posted to its more than 760,000 followers on Instagram that it would offer teachers a free dress for their hard work during the pandemic.
"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," the caption stated.
The announcement included the disclaimer: "offer valid while supplies last - winners will be notified on Tuesday, April 7th."
In order to enter, teachers had to fill out a form that, according to the lawsuit, asked for their "contact information but also sensitive education employee identification information, including pictures of their school IDs, the grade level and subjects they teach as well as their school name and state."
However, way more teachers applied for the free dress than the company had apparently anticipated. The New York Times reported at the time that the giveaway form crashed almost immediately and that by the time the application closed, nearly 1 million teachers had applied.
The problem? Draper James only had 250 dresses to give out, according to both the Times report and the lawsuit. The fact that only 250 dresses were being given away was mentioned in press coverage of the giveaway, including a story in the New York Post, and the original Instagram did mention supplies were limited.
However, the good press the brand had garnered from the giveaway soon turned to outrage, and people were PISSED.
The brand did offer teachers who didn't win a dress a 30% discount, according to the New York Times, but it didn't quell the outrage.
Now, a class action lawsuit is claiming that the giveaway wasn't just a misstep that spiraled out of control but a "false and deceptive" lottery, and that Draper James could use the personal information to convert applicants into new customers. The lawsuit notes that, for context, Draper James sold approximately 150,000 dresses in 2019, so the giveaway greatly expanded its customer database.
"Even if only a small percentage of these consumers used Defendants' discount or responded to their subsequent promotions, Defendants would still make more from these new clients than they would in the estimated cost of their offer, thereby turning what was promoted by Defendants to be a charitable gesture into a money making ploy to improve their image while at the same time developing a customer list to exploit and make money at the time of this national crises — all at the expense of educators who are on the front line of this crisis," the lawsuit states.
In the company's response, a lawyer for Draper James called the lawsuit baseless.
"This lawsuit is an unjust attempt to exploit Draper James’ good intentions to honor the teacher community by gifting hundreds of free dresses," Theane Evangelis said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
She added that the original Instagram post clearly disclosed the fact that supplies were limited "and is no basis for a lawsuit."
"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," Evangelis said.
Since news of the lawsuit broke, some women on social media have defended Draper James and spoken out against the legal action.
"Who would have thought that the world was so full of Karens that they would whine and sue someone trying to do something charitable," one person wrote.