ORLANDO – A Brevard County woman's lawsuit against Kohl's Department stores over its alleged robocalls and other Telephone Consumer Protection Act violations is only one of a growing number of such cases, an industry attorney said during a recent interview.
Companies often find auto calling and other phone technologies too tempting to resist, Michael Greenwald, a founding partner at Greenwald Davidson Radbil in Boca Raton, said during a Florida Record email interview.
"Companies use automatic telephone dialing systems largely because it is economical to do so," Greenwald said. "Computer systems can call consumers more times, and more efficiently, than a human who must type numbers into a telephone."
Those computer systems can detect when a person answers the phone and route that call to the next available operator, which saves time and money, Greenwald said.
"Now that a growing number of Americans exclusively use cellphones, however, it is paramount that companies obtain prior express consent before autodialing consumers on their cellphones," he said.
When companies don't obtain prior consent or they otherwise skirt various laws, including those of the TCPA, it could land them in court. The case of Patricia Douglas, filed against Kohl's last summer in U.S. District Court for the Orlando Division of Florida's Middle District, often is referred to as an example. Douglas claims Kohl's violated the TCPA and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act when the department store giant allegedly placed about 300 automated collection calls to her cellphone during the first part of 2015. Kohl's did not have her permission to do so and the calls didn’t stop when Douglas told Kohl’s to do so, Douglas claims.
“Kohl's has a corporate policy to harass and abuse individuals despite actual knowledge the called parties wish for the calls to cease,” Douglas' complaint says.
Greenwald was lead attorney in a class-action lawsuit that resulted in a $2.3 million settlement in a similar robocall case.
Kohl's media department did not respond to Florida Record requests for comment but a simple online search turns up similar cases against Kohl's. In June, another Florida woman filed a lawsuit against Kohl's alleging repeated violations of the TCPA.
A Pennsylvania woman filed a complaint in January after allegedly receiving thousands of pre-recorded robocalls, all intended for her ex-boyfriend, over the previous two years.
In August, a California woman filed suit against Kohl's after allegedly receiving unwanted calls on her cellphone.
It isn't only Kohl's who stands accused in robocall and other TCPA cases. TopClassActions.com reports that many companies, including Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, American Eagle, Chase Bank and Wells Fargo, face class-action lawsuits for alleged TCPA violations.
"Unfortunately, robocalls are extraordinarily common," Greenwald said. "In fact, unwanted robocalls are the number one source of consumer complaints to the Federal Communications Commission."
Douglas' case against Kohl's has not gone smoothly for her. In August, the judge in the case turned down her motion to lift Kohl's claim that their call logs are confidential, saying her motion was premature.
"She has not explained why she needs to file the call logs if she can use the information in them," that ruling said. "She has also not explained how she intends to use the call logs if her motion is granted. The court is not in the habit of making decisions on issues that do not appear to have any bearing on the case."
While clearly a blow for Douglas' suit, it was far from a win for Kohl's as the case continues to move forward. If the department store chain should lose, the penalty could be steep, up to $1,500 per incident.
Greenwald had some advice for consumers targeted by automated calling.
"We encourage consumers who receive unwanted robo-dialed calls to clearly instruct the caller to stop calling," he said. "If that doesn’t work, the consumer can submit a complaint with the FCC or seek the assistance of a consumer protection attorney."