The owner of Fresh & Easy stores—including those in Southwest Riverside County—has agreed to settle a lawsuit that claimed the company violated laws prohibiting false advertising and unfair competition, Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach announced today.
The suit filed by the Riverside County and San Diego County District Attorney offices, as well as the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, claimed the giant retailer posted prices and advertisements in its Fresh & Easy grocery stores but then charged consumers more at the checkout.
The Delaware-based Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Inc. was fined $833,136 for the alleged pricing errors.
Additionally, prosecutors alleged that meat and seafood packages in the meat department were marked at a higher price per pound than indicated on the shelf.
The alleged tactics are illegal, Riverside County DA’s Office spokesman John Hall said.
As part of the settlement, Fresh & Easy was ordered not to commit violations in the future and to institute, for the next three years, a “Get It Free” program. In that program, shoppers at Fresh & Easy stores throughout California will be entitled to receive $3 off the lowest advertised price of an item if they are overcharged at the register. If the lowest advertised price for the item is $3 or less, the consumer will receive it for free, Hall explained.
As part of the settlement, the corporation must pay the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office $217,823 in penalties plus an additional $10,000 in costs, Hall said. An additional $2,484 must be paid to the Riverside County Division of Weights and Measures, he added.
If consumers believe they have been a victim of similar violations, the Riverside County Division of Weights and Measures provides a citizen complaint form online at http://www.rivcoag.org/opencms/system/galleries/download/Forms/CITIZEN_complaint_form.pdf.
This case was brought to the attention of prosecutors by weights and measures officials in 12 California counties after they documented scanner and package overcharges during 124 inspections of 82 Fresh & Easy stores, Hall said.
The final judgment was signed Jan. 18 by San Diego Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp. The case was handled in Riverside County by Deputy District Attorney Elise Farrell of the DA’s Consumer Fraud Unit.