Have you ever been asked “Can I have your ZIP code?” by a perky cashier?
It’s not something I have an issue with- after all, they’re just numbers that I happen to share with 25,000 other people.
Kerry Feder, a Verona, NJ resident, doesn’t see it that way. She was asked by a store employee for her ZIP code when making a purchase at Williams-Sonoma in Upper Montclair earlier this year. Instead of simply declining, Feder decided to file suit under New Jersey’s Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act (TCCWNA).
Fortunately, Feder v. Williams-Sonoma Stores Inc. was thrown out by a federal judge in Newark earlier this week. Judge William Walls found that Williams-Sonoma’s practice does not violate CCWNA because the “Can I have your ZIP code” request is not made under the provision of a written contract.
Unfortunately, however, a Morris County judge reached the opposite conclusion just a few weeks ago in a case against Harmon Stores. The New Jersey Law Journal reports that Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury rejected the notion that a ZIP code is “too broad an identifier to be the subject of a privacy violation.” (The same attorneys, by the way, represented the plaintiffs in both TCCWNA suits).
The reason why there is a sudden rush to try class action TCCWNA cases in New Jersey (even though this practice has been around for so long it’s rather routine) is likely due to a California Supreme Court ruling against Williams-Sonoma in February, which found that collecting ZIP codes violates their state’s consumer statutes. A plethora of similar cases have since been filed across California, and it seems that New Jersey is poised to be the second state in which the trial attorneys want to test the waters.
The courts’ conflicting rulings suggest that New Jersey might be in for more TCCWNA class action suits. Trial attorneys may see the dollar signs at the end of the road, but remember who pays the bill: consumers, who pay stores’ legal overhead in the form of higher prices; job-seekers, whose opportunities part-time and seasonal employment may be extinguished; and taxpayers, who are forced to subsidize these cases as they make their way through the court system.
So, you can stand up and be counted, and give your ZIP code if asked – (and if it means better advertising and coupons for me, I’m for it) – or you can decline. The choice should be yours – not the trial bar’s to make for you.