The Low End of The Tolerance and Coverage Scale – The Yoga Pants Litigation

“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t [sue their exercise clothing manufacturer], they just don’t.” – Elle Woods, Legally Blonde. Or do they? So, fitness is not usually a hot law topic; rather, lawyers tend to talk about fitness only as something they should do but do not have enough time for or as something that keeps them sane in the crazy world of the billable hour. Fitness is serious business.  Gone are the days of just going to the local YMCA for an aerobics class in a leotard and legwarmers or walking around the block in a big t-shirt and a tattered pair of Umbros.  Now, gyms are no longer one-stop shops; rather entire exercise studios are built around offering only one activity at a premium, and each seems to have its own dress code. But once you start going, you become hooked and find it normal to buy the $12 socks with special traction, the $40 sweatshirts that fall just-so off your shoulders so that you can wear it to and from exercising, the $65 dollar yoga mat that incorporates a towel into the mat itself, and do not forget the $90 pair of pants everyone says makes your backside look like you have never skipped a day of squats and lunges.

For those of you that do not know, Lululemon Athletica, Inc., a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Vancouver, British Columbia, is the chic, “it” fitness brand.  The easily distinguishable logo can be spotted all over town while running errands or even at brunch.  In addition to its products, Lululemon gets involved in each community in which it opens a store.  Lululemon’s pants are not your run-of-the-mill cotton exercise pants.  The fabrics are more hi-tech and breathable; the waistband is more flattering; and the cut is just more flattering to a woman’s backside.  However, in recent months, Lululemon has become associated more for what it is covering up in its books and less for what it is covering up for its customers.

In March 2013, the retailer recalled 17 percent of its stock of yoga pants. Specifically, customers that purchased the pants at issue on or after March 1, 2013 noticed and began complaining that the people behind them in their yoga classes were getting more than the “communal energy” created in the room.  Let’s just say that when the class went into downward facing dog—or really any pose that involved bending over, of which there are many, it was more of a peep show than a show of strength and flexibility.  Lululemon offered exchanges and refunds for these pants in addition to pulling the remaining pairs off of the shelves.  In a Form 8-K Securities and Exchange Commission filing on April 3, 2013, Lululemon admitted the fabric used in its black luon products was “on the low end of lululemon’s tolerance scale,” and that the company found that its “testing protocols were incomplete for some of the variables in fabric characteristics.” Although there are those that say—generally men who do not do yoga—that they would actually go to yoga to be behind these translucent pants, those who paid the premium to purchase the high quality product marketed by Lululemon have not been laughing.

Yet it has not been the customers who have provided the biggest backlash over the pants.  To date, there have been no lawsuits alleging a design defect causing injury or a failure to warn.  Instead, Lululemon’s shareholders have felt the most betrayed by the seeming lack of quality control, and their anger has taken shape in the form of two complaints alleging securities violations and breaches of fiduciary duty, Hallandale Beach Police Officers & Firefighters’ Personnel Retirement Fund v. Lululemon Athletica, Inc., No.8522-VCP (Del. Ch. May 3, 2013 & July 1, 2013), and Alkhoury v. Lululemon Athletica, Inc., No. 13-CV-4596 (S.D.N.Y. July 2, 2013).

The Plaintiff in Hallandale claim brought this action as a common stockholder of Lululemon alleging possible breaches of fiduciary duty on the party of officers and directors.  Brought in Delaware, the premise of this complaint is that Lululemon has not allowed Plaintiff to inspect its corporate books and records as provided in Section 220 of Delaware’s General Corporation Law.  Basing its complaint and amended complaint on a New York Times article, “Recall is Expensive Setback for Maker of Yoga Pants” and several of Lululemon’s most recent Form 8-K filings regarding the recall and the termination of the company’s Chief Products Officer, Plaintiff alleges the recall cost approximately $60 million and cost the company a lot of its popularity.  The amended complaint further alleges that in the midst of dealing with the fallout from the recall, the Lululemon board of directors still increased the maximum allowable payout for the executive bonus plan. The amended complaint states a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty in that Lululemon’s chairman sold $50 million of his own stock on the day that Lululemon’s Chief Executive Officer stepped down, causing the value of the stock to decrease by 22 percent in two days.  Plaintiff claims it sent two demand letters to Lululemon demanding to inspect certain portions of its books but that the retailer did not resopnd to the demands.

Although filed around the same date as the Hallandale amended complaint, the Alkhoury complaint expands upon, in very specific terms, the allegations of the Hallandale litigation.  Notably, it is a class action, including all common stockholders that purchased or held Lululemon stock during the class period of March 21, 2013 through June 10, 2013.  The complaint alleges a violation of two sections of the Securities Exchange Act, Section 10(b), Rule 10b-5, and fraud on the market against Lululemon and Section 20(a) against the founder and Chairman of the Board of Lululemon, Dennis J. Wilson, and CEO, Christine McCormick Day. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that defendants knew Lululemon cut corners to keep profit margins up as competition in Lululemon’s niche market stiffened. Plaintiff further claims that the price of Lululemon stock was artificially inflated by the announcement of the fourth quarter and fiscal 2012 financial report for the period ending February 3, 2013 and other positive statements regarding increased quality-control measures following the recall.  Plaintiff further claims that at that time, defendant Wilson was selling 2 million shares of his personally-owned stock on the open market and receiving more than $163 million in gross proceeds during a very short trading window lasting from May 10, 2013 to June 7, 2013. It is alleged these sales were unusual both in sheer size and timing, as defendant Wilson had not sold Lululemon stock since January, and he was then aware of internal turmoil at Lululemon. Plaintiff claims that as a result of Day’s resignation from her position as CEO, the price of Lululemon stock, which had traded as high as $82.50 per share during the class period, plummeted more than 17.5 percent to close at $67.85 per share on June 11, 2013, erasing more than $1.6 billion in market capitalization. Thus, Plaintiff alleges that during the class period, defendants made false and misleading statements, engaged in a scheme to deceive the market, engaged in a course of conduct that artificially inflated the price of Lululemon common stock, and operated as a fraud or deceit on Plaintiff by misrepresenting the value of the company’s business and prospects by overstating its earnings and concealing the significant defects in its internal controls. Therefore, Plaintiff alleges that as defendants’ misrepresentations and fraudulent conduct became apparent to the market, the price of Lululemon common stock fell precipitously, and as a result of their purchases of Lululemon common stock during the class period, Plaintiff and other members of the class suffered economic loss, i.e., damages, under the federal securities laws.  Alkhoury has been designated a “complex civil case” for purposes of the Southern District of New York’s pilot program on complex civil case management, and as part of that designation and based on a July 8, 2013 Order, all defendants must have been served by July 15, 2013.

Both Complaints allege fraudulent behavior on the part of Lululemon and its officers; however, proving a breach of fiduciary duty can be much easier than proving fraud directly since plaintiffs do not need to prove criminal or fraudulent intent or the other elements of fraud. To prevail on a breach of fiduciary duty, the plaintiff must show only that the defendant occupied a position of trust or fiduciary relationship and that the defendant breached that duty to benefit personally. However, Rule 10b-5 prohibits fraudulent conduct in connection with the purchase or sale of securities; accordingly, it prohibits a person from employing any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud; making any untrue statement of material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading; or engaging in any act, practice, or course of business which operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit upon any person, in connection with the purchase or sale of any security. To prevail on such a securities fraud claim requires the showing of (1) a misrepresentation or omission of, (2) a material fact; (3) reliance thereon; (4) causation; (5) damages; (6) scienter or fraudulent conduct; (7) in connection with the purchase or sale of a security. Therefore, the way in which the Hallandale complaint is pled may get the desired result for shareholders more easily Alkhoury.

At this time, no answer has been filed in either of these cases.  It will be interesting to see how Lululemon balances these related matters and what is found if and when Lululemon allows its books to be reviewed.  Either way it seems that Lululemon is going to remain in the hot seat for a while even though its stock price has rebounded since these lawsuits were filed.  The stock price went from $82 per share before CEO Day stepped down following the sheer pants drama to as low as $57 per share, but the stock has been steadily climbing back, currently hovering around $72 per share.  Namaste.

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