A group of well-heeled women who paid up to $1,500 to snag a man through one of the nation's priciest and fast-growing online dating services — It's Just Lunch — has filed a civil lawsuit in Manhattan federal court, claiming the lunchtime setups were not what they bargained for.
Court papers filed last week portray the company — which has sold IJL franchises to more than 100 matchmaking entrepreneurs in big and small cities across the nation and worldwide — as focused solely on profits, at the expense of matchmaking, and willing to lie to clients to close deals.
"They lie every step of the way," plaintiff lawyer John Balestriere told ABC News. "They lie to sign up the client. They lie in the initial interview and they lie about the prospective dates."
The lawyer claimed clients are routinely misled about their blind dates, "including marital status, employment status, criminal background, age, health status, physical appearance, religious convictions, politicians and recreational interests."
In court papers, Balestriere claims that the company imposes monthly client sign-up quotas on their franchises, who receive commissions when they sign clients up. Franchises "do not receive any compensation on their sales … unless the total number of sales equals or exceeds the monthly quota set by IJL," plaintiffs say in the complaint. Balestriere is seeking class action status for the case.
Marcia Horowitz, a spokesperson for It's Just Lunch, defended the company.
"We have been in business for 16 years and in that time we have arranged millions of meetings that resulted in thousands of marriages," she said in a statement. "Our success is based largely on word of mouth and we wouldn't be successful without having a vocal majority of satisfied members. The allegations in the lawsuit are completely without merit and we will defend vigorously against them."
In court papers, Balestriere cites internal company documents, like a training manual included in the filing, called "First Date University." The document instructs employees to parrot company "control points," which the manual says "are said verbatim in an interview to establish control."
One point instructs employees, engaged in introductory pitch meetings with potential clients, to "stop and flip over your clipboard" halfway through the interview, and say, "OK, so far, I have three to four ideas for your first date," in order to land the client.
Another control point requires icebreaker questions, like "Did you read the article about us in Forbes, or the one in the Wall Street Journal?" to potential male clients, and "Have you had any friends that have gotten married through us… ?" to potential female clients, according to court papers.
A third point instructs employees, toward the close of an introductory meeting, to "reach over and grab your big stack of contracts on the clipboard. DO NOT EVER let go of them. Do not call it a 'contract' or an 'agreement.' It's a 'this,'" according to a copy of the manual.