MANHATTAN (CN) - MasterCard International has been manipulating cardholders for years with a bogus promotion that allegedly links donations to a cancer charity based on their credit and debit card use, a class action claims.
In a complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court on Nov. 30, lead plaintiff Robert Doyle claims MasterCard's "Stand Up to Cancer" promotion is bogus because the company reaches an established plateau for donations well before it stops advertising the initiative each year.
As a result, Doyle says, consumers are enticed to use their cards thinking they are helping raise additional funds for cancer when in fact they are not.
"They knew with virtual certainty that they were going to reach that goal long before the campaign was scheduled to end," Doyle's attorney, Todd Bank, told Courthouse News in an interview.
"My goal is not to pick on MasterCard ... but in a lot of these fundraising campaigns, and in particular the MasterCard ones, they don't do it honestly," Bank said.
In the promotion, MasterCard promised to donate one cent for every ten dollars spent at a restaurant, for a maximum donation of $4 million. The promotion kicked off in July 2011 and was supposed to end either when MasterCard donated the maximum, or in September 2011, whichever came first.
MasterCard has repeated the promotion each year since 2011 using similar terms, and has claimed to have hit the $4 million mark every year since. However, the deadlines changed slightly during each year of the promotion. For example, in 2011 the deadline to hit the $4 million mark was 52 days after the start of the promotion. In 2012, the deadline was 81 days after.
And yet, according to Doyle's lawsuit, the marketing campaign for the effort continued until the exact deadline almost every year after the initial rollout. In 2012, according to the lawsuit, MasterCard reached the donation ceiling 73 days after the promotion started. In 2013, the lawsuit states, the donation ceiling was reached 67 days after the promotion started.
"That first year  proves the point," Bank said, noting that advertisements for the promotion continued to run until the deadline each year. "It should be fairly consistent from year to year... I mean, why would you even run the ads if the maximum was already reached?"
MasterCard spokesman James Issokson called the claim "baseless."
Stand Up to Cancer has raised more than $370 million since its inception in May 2008, according to the charity's website. Besides MasterCard (which is listed as one of the charity's major donors under the "Visionaries" category), Major League Baseball, Pfizer, and Siemens have donated funds.
MasterCard's chief marketing officer, Raja Rajaannar, said in a July 2015 statement that the company has raised $26 million in four years using the promotion, which means MasterCard raised $10 million more than the $4 million per year it had initially claimed.
Bank said the extra $16 million was due to other Stand Up for Cancer promotions run by MasterCard beyond the summertime restaurant promotion.
Doyle is seeking damages and other relief on behalf of himself and other members of the purported class on claims of breach of contract, as well as breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
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