WOONSOCKET, R.I. — Hundreds of people expressed outrage this week after a Twitter user shared information related to a lawsuit that accuses CVS Health Corporation of fraud.
In May, a New York resident filed a class-action complaint, accusing CVS of deceptive fund-raising in a campaign it held for the American Diabetes Association. Prior to each customer’s transaction, a checkout screen prompts the customer with several options for pre-selected dollar amounts, as well as an opt-out option, allowing donations to the diabetes association. Yet, the plaintiff alleges, CVS did not forward donations to the diabetes association, but instead applied the donations toward a legally binding $10 million obligation CVS made to the diabetes association.
In November, Edward L. Powers, a lawyer for CVS, filed a motion to dismiss the case, challenging the plaintiff and his lawyer on their interpretation of the alleged $10 million “debt.”
On Monday, Emma van Inwegen, a PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tweeted about the lawsuit, which drew a public outcry.
“CVS is being sued for asking customers to donate to the American Diabetes Association when they check out,” van Inwegen wrote on Twitter. “Those donations are in fact *not* sent to the ADA, but instead reimburse the CVS for a legally binding obligation of $10 [million] that CVS promised earlier.”
CVS is being sued for asking customers to donate to the American Diabetes Association when they check out. Those donations are in fact *not* sent to the ADA, but instead reimburse the CVS for a legally binding obligation of $10M that CVS promised earlier https://t.co/t8IAiqyu43— Emma van Inwegen (@emmavaninwegen) December 5, 2022
Some Twitter accounts shared her tweet, advising others to “never round up for corporations.” Others called it “revolting.”
“There are a lot of ways to give money to organizations and people who need it, but doing it through large corporations who may be doing shady accounting is not my preference,” wrote romance novelist Courtney Milan.
In an e-mail to the Globe on Monday, van Inwegen confirmed writing her tweet, but did not answer questions asking why she wanted to draw attention to the case. By Monday afternoon, her tweet had been shared more than 10,000 times.
In his November motion to dismiss the lawsuit, CVS lawyer Edward Powers challenged the plaintiff Kevin McCabe and his lawyer Todd Bank.
“CVS has no debt to the ADA,” the motion stated. Instead, lawyers say, CVS agreed to fund-raise from its customers and turn over the donations to the diabetes association. After more than three years of fund-raising, CVS would make up the difference between the cumulative customer donations and $10 million, according to the motion.
“Obviously, upon signing, CVS did not assume an unconditional $10 million debt to the ADA,” the motion stated.
A multi-billion dollar business shouldn’t be asking customers for extra money to donate to charity… they should instead be taking out a percentage of sales, or $1 per transaction and donating that.— Sabrina Silva (@SabSilv) December 5, 2022
The way these companies take donations always seemed slimy to me. https://t.co/48inHoYR36
The lawsuit, which has drawn some coverage from trade publications and legal blogs, has not received much news coverage. Hours after her original tweet, Van Inwegen said the comments the suit had garnered were “way more intense than” she thought the situation demanded.
“The claims asserted in this action lack merit and we have filed a motion to dismiss that details the plaintiff’s inaccurate description of our campaign and its intent,” said Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS, in an e-mail to the Globe on Monday. “We are proud of our 3-year collaboration with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to support families in helping to prevent and manage diabetes, including our in-store fundraising campaign through which customers have, and continue to donate to the ADA.”
In November 2021, both CVS and the American Diabetes Association distributed a news release that explained a new partnership between the corporation and nonprofit that would help prevent and manage diabetes while also funding research.
“CVS Health has committed $10 million over three years to support people in their health journey of preventing and managing diabetes with increased awareness, knowledge, and action to improve health,” read the news release. “In addition, support will fund research to better understand and address the unmet needs in underserved communities leading to the future elimination of these disparities.
“CVS Health will also host an in-store fundraising campaign at all CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide during American Diabetes Month, now through Nov. 27, to give customers an opportunity to support the ADA to increase health equity and build a future without diabetes,” the press release continued.
McCabe said in his complaint that he and “all other persons who made a campaign donations” are entitled to damages.
Bank, who is representing McCabe and describes himself as the “annoyance” lawyer, did not immediately respond to the Globe for comment.