As we continuously learn from the likes of Madonna, Wyclef Jean and Kanye West, celebrities wading into the world of charity can bring about tremendous change and influence but can also lead to big-time headaches.
Lady Gaga just joined the club yesterday, when legal network 1-800-LAW-FIRM filed a suit in their native Michigan claiming that funds raised through the sales of Gaga-designed-and-endorsed bracelets for the benefit of earthquake relief efforts in Japan were misused.
The suit (which you can read in full at the firm’s official site) claims that Gaga and a number of other companies connected to her, including her various publishing arms, her merchandising company and Live Nation, over-charged for shipping and did not properly allocate tax fees. The suit says that because of these details, Gaga is in violation of consumer protection laws, especially because of the promise that all proceeds would go to the victims of the Japanese earthquake.
“This misguided lawsuit is without merit and unfortunately takes attention away from the kind deeds of the fans around the world who are supporting the people of Japan,” Gaga said through an announcement distributed by her publicist. “The entire $5 donation made with the purchase of each bracelet is going to support the disaster relief. No profit is being made on shipping costs. Sales tax charges were made in accordance with local legal requirements. Lady Gaga has personally pledged her own funds to this cause and continues to support the victims of the disaster.”
Gaga’s fans have come to her defense, claiming the suit is a frivolous publicity grab, and honestly, the fact that 1-800-LAW-FIRM employs a shaved werewolf to explain their current cases doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
(The video above also complicates things, since he states that the Gaga camp should not have charged sales tax because the products were benefiting charity, which is not explicitly stated in the complaint.)
However, lawyer Alyson Oliver, one of the two attorneys who filed the complaint, told EW that should the court find in favor of their class action suit, they may never see any money, because distribution of damages and awards are up to the court.
And though they haven’t reached the discovery process yet (which would require Gaga’s team to disclose the accounting on the bracelets), Oliver was confident that they already had enough evidence to push forward. “I feel really solid about this case and wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t believe in it, and I believe it has legs,” Oliver said. “I feel that we have sufficient evidence to move forward even without the discovery process. We’re hoping that rather that get into an extended drawn-out battle that we can resolve it. This is what our law firm does. We market to consumer protection cases. This is the business that we’re in.”
EW spoke to an outside legal expert who said the suit had some legs, but only to a point: “The allegations seem specific enough that the court will force the defendants to produce some documents and answer some questions,” University of Notre Dame law professor Lloyd Mayer explained.
“Unless the plaintiffs find a smoking gun,” he continued, “the e-mail that says ‘What suckers, we’re going to take two bucks out of the five and stick it in our pockets,’ they don’t want to go to trial, because it’s expensive and they have a good chance of not winning. It’s possible that with all the people and money involved, some of the accounting might not have been entirely up to snuff, but neither side is going to want this to go to trial.”
Read more on EW.com: