June 17, 2013, 11:58 AM

A class action suit challenges Rue La La vouchers’ expiration dates

The suit alleges the expiration dates are ‘deceptive and illegal.’

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A consumer last week filed a lawsuit against Boston-based Rue La La that alleges the expiration dates on discounted vouchers sold on the flash-sale retailer’s web site are “deceptive and illegal” under both federal and Massachusetts law.

Rue La La is No. 76 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500 Guide.

The plaintiff, Leah Mirabella, filed the suit in such a way that it could be certified as a class action, which could open it up to the retailer’s more than 7.5 million members.

In addition to selling physical goods, Rue La La also sells Groupon-like discounted vouchers under the “Rue Local Picks” section of its site. The vouchers are available for a limited time, typically one or two days, which the suit says causes consumers to “feel pressured” and “rushed” into making a purchase.

The case focuses on whether Rue La La is violating a federal law that says that gift certificates cannot expire within five years from the date they were activated, and a Massachusetts law that requires they cannot expire for seven years.

Mirabella bases her claims on her July 5, 2012, purchase of a $59 voucher for private training services at Fitness Together, a personal fitness training center in Boston. The voucher expired Oct. 31, 2012, before she could use it, she says. Mirabella wants unspecified financial damages in the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which is located in Rue La La’s home base of Boston.

The suit acknowledges that Rue La La changed its expiration date policy sometime after Mirabella bought her voucher, presumably to comply with state and federal laws. While the suit is vague about the changes, the retailer’s site says that a voucher’s promotional value—such as $40 for $80 worth of personal training services—is subject to an expiration date that appears on the certificate. However, consumers can apply the amount they paid for the voucher to goods or services from the merchant whose voucher they bought via Rue La La for up to five years—or longer if the consumer is in a state like Massachusetts that require gift certificates and vouchers to have longer expiration windows. That’s a similar policy to those offered by Groupon Inc. and LivingSocial Inc. Groupon is No. 65 in the Top 500 Guide, while LivingSocial in No. 119.

Washington law firm Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca is representing Mirabella. The firm has previously obtained settlements from Groupon and LivingSocial over their vouchers’ expiration dates.

A Rue La La spokesman says the retailer does not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca could not be reached for immediate comment.

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