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California court affirms win for Williams-Sonoma regarding gathering personal data at checkout

A California Court of Appeal recently affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of Williams-Sonoma in a case under the Song Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971 (the “Act”) challenging the store’s practice in soliciting consumer personal information at checkout. Williams-Sonoma Song-Beverly Act Cases, 2019 DJDAR 9435 (Ct. App, 1st Dist. September 30, 2019).

The Act makes it illegal, in a credit card transaction, to “request, or require as a condition to accepting the credit card as payment …, the cardholder to provide personal information which the [merchant] causes to be written, or otherwise records, upon the credit card transaction form or otherwise.” Civil Code § 1747.08(a)(2). Plaintiffs brought a class action alleging that William-Sonoma broke the law by asking customers for their zip code and other personal information in the middle of processing their credit card at checkout.

William-Sonoma countered that the practice of store employees in regard to asking of the information at checkout was not uniform, that providing the information was voluntary, and that signs were prominently posted at checkout advising customers that they did not have to provide the information as a condition to making a purchase.

Following a long line of cases under the Act, the court affirmed the lower court’s determination that the applicable standard was whether a reasonable person would believe he or she was compelled to provide the information as a condition to completing the transaction based on all the circumstances. It declined to adopt plaintiffs’ proffered rule that asking for the information in the middle of processing the transaction was a per se violation. The court also affirmed the lower court’s order decertifying the class, based on plaintiffs’ failure to establish that the circumstances at checkout were sufficiently uniform so as to constitute a common issue.

A California merchant asking for personal information at checkout for marketing purposes may want to review the policies and procedures Williams-Sonoma put in place, as described in the opinion, including employee training, which allowed the company to prevail in this case.

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