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PORTLAND, Ore. - Fred Meyer, based here, was hit with a lawsuit yesterday by two customers and an employee, who claim the retailer has illegally inflated meat prices over a 10-year period.
The lawsuit, which was filed yesterday in Washington state's King County Superior Court in Seattle and seeks class action status, claims that as many as 1 million consumers in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Utah, and Idaho overpaid for meat because labels on packages showed more weight than the packages actually contained.
According to published reports, the plaintiffs in the suit allege that meat packages bought at 30 Fred Meyer stores were mislabeled, with the meat in the packages weighing less than the weights stated on the labels, in some cases by as much as five ounces. Of 257 samples tested, 96 percent allegedly overcharged the consumer by an average of 16 cents per package. The suit estimates that the total cost to customers is more than $1 million annually.
The customers who filed the suit are Robin Alexander and Cathy Wiseman, and the Fred Meyer employee and lead plaintiff is meat manager David Galego. Galego put the blame for the inflated meat prices on a faulty computer system. He said the company has been cited by state inspectors, including officials of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, for similar pricing infractions over the past few years. According to the Seattle Times, Galego has admitted being suspended twice by the company for mistakes made at work, but he has denied that his participation in the suit is related to a desire for revenge or for monetary gain.
Andrea Boyer, office manager of the Oregon Department of Agriculture's measurement standards division, told the newspaper that inspectors have discovered discrepancies at Fred Meyer, but that the retailer's record was no better or worse than those of comparable grocers.
After news of the lawsuit broke, Fred Meyer issued the following statement: "Fred Meyer works hard every day to earn the trust of our valued customers. We consider honesty and integrity to be our company's most important assets. We are committed to 100 percent price accuracy for our customers. Fred Meyer has strict guidelines and policies in place for ensuring that the price per pound charged to customers is accurate, fair, and consistent. We expect every associate to adhere to those procedures. Although we have not received a copy of the lawsuit, we take these allegations very seriously and are conducting a thorough review of this matter." The chain, owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., would not comment further on the lawsuit.
Seattle-based plaintiffs' attorney David Leen told Progressive Grocer that although there was no chain that he was currently "hot on the trail of" aside from Fred Meyer, he planned to look into other Kroger banners in the region and would be investigating Kroger's corporate structure. According to Leen, stores should be concerned about such suits, as they are "a lethal weapon for consumers." Although small amounts of money per purchase are at issue in the present case, they "really add up at the end of the day," noted Leen.
The next step in the suit, Leen said, is to certify the case as a class action, but he added that "settlement discussions could occur at any time."