What looked like an easy shortcut to earn some extra cash could now ending up costing Papa John's millions. The pizza chain is being targeted in a $250 million class-action lawsuit in which customers allege that Papa John's sent out hundreds of thousands of illegal text messages.
"After I ordered from Papa John's, my telephone started beeping with text messages advertising pizza specials," one of the plaintiffs in the case Erin Chutich said in a statement. "Papa John's never asked permission to send me text message advertisements."
Apparently, in 2010, Papa John's hired a mass text messaging service called OnTime4U to text ads to its customers as a way to boost profits. According to the lawsuit (PDF), which was certified by U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour on November 9 in Seattle, certain Papa John's franchisees gave OnTime4U lists of customers phone numbers without getting consent from those individuals first.
If the judge decides that Papa John's is guilty of willfully sending the spam messages, this case could become one of the largest damages awards ever given under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which deems it illegal to send ads via text without an opt-in option. The lawsuit claims that 500,000 unwanted messages were sent to customers nationwide and that the pizza chain should pay $500 for each text.
According to CNN Money, Papa John's said that it acted within the scope of the law since the ads were texted by a third-party vendor. It plans to appeal Judge Coughenour's certification and move to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Lawyers representing the customers in the suit believe they have a strong case, however, and plan to continue to defend their position.
"Many customers complained to Papa John's that they wanted the text messages to stop, and yet thousands of spam text messages were sent week after week," plaintiff lawyer Donald Heyrich said in a statement. "This should be a wakeup call to advertisers. Consumers do not want spam on their cell phones. If you do not have permission from your customers, do not send them text messages. It's as simple as that."