June 21, 2014
$20 credit card bill leads woman to sue Kohl's for harassment
Enough with the calls.
That's what one consumer is telling Kohl's in a federal lawsuit that claims the department store is stalking her and harassing her by phone over an overdue credit card bill, calling her at all hours of the night over what she calls a measly $20.
"They started harassing me over $20 and I was like, 'Screw it, oh well,' " said Lisa Ratliff, the 29-year-old plaintiff from Ypsilanti who got so fed up with the phone calls she sued over them. "It's really annoying if you're trying to get things done or you're trying to sleep or you're working or spending time with your family ...I just want them to stop harassing me."
Ratliff said she was going to pay the bill but got so irritated by the repeated calls that she decided against it. Instead, she's suing over Kohl's collection practices -- tactics that she claims are prohibited under federal law.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Ratliff's lawyers claim that Kohl's violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a 1991 law that makes it illegal to call a cell phone using an auto dialer or prerecorded voice without the recipient's consent. The lawsuit, filed by the Krohn & Moss Consumer Law Center in Chicago, is seeking damages under the act, which allows victims to sue for $500 per violating call -- or up to $1,500 per call if they can prove the party knowingly violated the law.
Kohl's officials did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment. No attorney of record is yet listed in court documents for Kohl's.
According to Ratliff's lawsuit, the Kohl's phone calls -- which included both automated and live operator calls -- started in November 2013. Until then, she said, she paid her bill in full every month and that her total credit line was $400. When the calls started, she owed $20. Now it's up to $100 because of late fees and interest, she said.
Shortly after the calls started, Ratliff, who works as an night auditor at a hotel, asked a Kohl's employee to stop calling her and that she would pay the bill within two weeks. But the phone calls continued -- the lawsuit cites 22 in one week in May -- even after she asked them to stop, she said.
Ratliff said some calls came in after midnight and started as early as 6 a.m. Most of the time she hung up; other times she told them they had the wrong number. Ratliff eventually got a "block-it" app on her phone, but the calls continued, she said.
"When you have a client who says, 'Stop calling,' and the calling continues five times a day ... eventually, people feel violated," said Ratliff's lawyer, Adam Krohn, a partner at Krohn & Moss Consumer Law Center in Chicago.
Krohn said Ratliff's case highlights an all-too common problem: overzealous debt collectors who cross the line in subtle but illegal ways.
"People believe that unless (collectors) are swearing at them or being utterly abusive, calling 20 times a day, that they should just take it, when in fact the standard is much less," Krohn said. "(Consumers) need to understand their level of tolerance doesn't have to be as high as it's perceived."
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