The Federal Trade Commission has accepted an agreement to a proposed consent order from The May Department Stores Company. The proposed respondent is a large retailer that operates over 350 department stores nationwide through eight regional divisions and ten trade names, including Lord & Taylor, Hecht’s, Strawbridge’s, Foley’s, Robinsons-May, Kaufmann’s, Filene’s, Famous Barr, L.S. Ayres, and Meier & Frank.

The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for sixty (60) days for reception of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After sixty (60) days, the Commission will again review the agreement and the comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement and take other appropriate action or make final the agreement’s proposed order.

The Commission’s complaint alleges several unfair or deceptive acts or practices related to the proposed respondent’s policy of inducing consumers who have filed for bankruptcy protection to sign agreements reaffirming debts owed to proposed respondent prior to the filing of the bankruptcy petition. The complaint charges that the proposed respondent: falsely represented to consumers that signed reaffirmation agreements would be filed with the bankruptcy courts, as required by the United States Bankruptcy Code; falsely represented to consumers that debts associated with unfiled reaffirmation agreements, or agreements that were filed but not approved by the bankruptcy courts, were legally binding on the consumers; and unfairly collected debts that it was not permitted by law to collect. The proposed consent order contains provisions designed to remedy the violations charged and to prevent the proposed respondent from engaging in similar acts in the future.

The proposed consent order preserves the Commission’s right to seek consumer redress if the Commission determines that redress to consumers provided through related named and unnamed legal actions is not adequate.

Part I of the proposed order prohibits the proposed respondent from misrepresenting to consumers who have filed petitions for bankruptcy protection under the United States Bankruptcy Code that (A) reaffirmation agreements will be filed in bankruptcy court; or (B) any reaffirmation agreement is legally binding on the consumer. Part I.C of the proposed order prohibits the proposed respondent from taking any action to collect any debt (including any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation) that has been legally discharged in bankruptcy proceedings and that the proposed respondent is not permitted by law to collect. Part II of the proposed order prohibits the proposed respondent from making any material misrepresentation in the collection of any debt subject to a pending bankruptcy proceeding.

Part III of the proposed order contains record keeping requirements for materials that demonstrate the compliance of the proposed respondent with the proposed order. Part IV requires distribution of a copy of the consent decree to certain current and future personnel who have responsibilities related to collecting debts subject to bankruptcy proceedings.

Part V provides for Commission notification upon any change in the corporate respondent affecting compliance obligations arising under the order. Part VI requires the proposed respondent to notify the Commission of proposed settlement terms in related actions filed by various named and unnamed parties. Part VII requires the filing of compliance report(s). Finally, Part VIII provides for the termination of the order after twenty years under certain circumstances.

The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the proposed order, and it is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the agreement and proposed order or to modify in any way their terms.