Activist Uses ‘Insensitive’ Ad to Highlight Intel’s Support for a Ballot Initiative to Amend California’s Class Action Laws

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Consumer activist Jamie Court, with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, is circulating an advertisement that Intel Corp. has apologized for not once, but twice, in order to call attention to Intel’s involvement in a bid to amend California’s class action law through the ballot box.

"I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw Intel’s ad (that) shows six bowing African American athletes before a chino-clad, oxford-shirted white manager," wrote Court in an e-mail. He went on to link that cultural gaffe with the ballot initiative, saying "(Intel) is also leading a signature drive for a California ballot measure that would eliminate class action lawsuits over civil rights issues."

Class action lawsuits allow groups of individuals with a similar grievance to band together and hire one attorney to sue on their behalf. Consumer advocates consider class actions a power-to-the-people tool for those who could not otherwise afford their day in court, while corporations have long maintained that current rules are so loose that they are abused by attorneys whose only interest is picking their deep pockets.

Intel Corp. spokesman Chuck Mulloy confirmed that the advertisement had run briefly in June but only in a couple of places. Once the firm started getting feedback on the racial overtones, he said its executives pulled the offensive image and apologized.

"We made a bad mistake," Intel global marketing guru Don MacDonald wrote in an apology that pledged that the firm would redouble efforts to avoid such future mistakes and detailed efforts to retract the offensive image.

Meanwhile, given the viral nature of the Web, even the few appearances of the ad started to proliferate once the image was picked up by popular tech sites like Gizmodo.

Mulloy also confirmed that Intel belongs to the Civil Justice Association of California, a corporate group that recently launched a campaign to gather signatures for a ballot initiative. If enough signatures are gathered the measure, now on file with state officials, would appear on the ballot next June. Mulloy said the intent is to make California’s class action laws more like the federal Class Action Fairness Act that became law in 2005.

Mulloy said the regrettable ad had nothing to do with the class action, and suggested Court was linking the two as attention-getting scheme.

But in his e-mail Court challenged Intel to follow up its mea culpa about the ad with an admission about "the insensitivity of its attack on (the) class action system where the rights of victims of discrimination are vindicated."

Court detailed his opposition to the Intel-backed initiative in a letter to state officials, while the initiative sponsors have laid out their rationale for changing current law on the Justice Association web site.

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