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9 Counties Split $2.25M Settlement vs. Safeway

Several Bay Area district attorneys Thursday announced a $2.25 million settlement with Pleasanton-based Safeway Inc. of a lawsuit that alleged the grocery chain sometimes charged customers more than its advertised and posted prices.

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By Bay City News Service—    

Several Bay Area district attorneys today announced a $2.25 million settlement with Pleasanton-based Safeway Inc. of a lawsuit that alleged the grocery chain sometimes charged customers more than its advertised and posted prices.
 
The settlement was signed by Marin County Superior Court Judge Roy Chernus on Wednesday, the same day that nine county district attorneys filed a lawsuit alleging that Pleasanton-based Safeway engaged in unfair business practices.
 
The counties whose district attorneys participated include Alameda, Fresno, Napa, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma and Ventura in addition to Marin. Under the pact, Safeway did not admit to any liability or violations of law, but agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting it from making false or misleading statements or charging prices above those advertised or displayed.
 
Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian, who led the lawsuit, said, "We believe consumers need to be sure they will be treated in a fair manner. I think Safeway agrees."
 
Berberian said the simultaneous lawsuit and settlement followed several months of negotiations and provided a way to have a court-supervised injunction in place. The settlement also requires Safeway to pay $2.25 million in fines and restitution to the nine counties and the state.
 
Most of the money -- $2 million, or $222,000 per county - will be divided equally among the consumer fraud units of the nine district attorneys.
 
A state consumer protection fund will receive $50,000, and the remaining $200,000 will go to reimburse state and county weights and measures offices for their expenses in investigating the case. Berberian said the disbursement of the funds to consumer protection agencies was made under a state law that requires that procedure when it is impractical to identify and reimburse customers.
 
Safeway spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall said, "This settlement came about because of our inconsistency in communicating and applying our scan guarantee to our customers. "It is not about excessive overcharges or price accuracy issues," Gutshall maintained. "Safeway has one of the best price accuracy rates in the nation, something we are very proud of. As part of the settlement, Safeway will take additional steps to make our scan guarantee policy more visible to our customers and well-understood by our employees," Gutshall said.
 
The March 5 lawsuit alleged that Safeway was violating a 2008 settlement in an earlier lawsuit led by the Napa County district attorney, which required Safeway to maintain a price accuracy policy. The new lawsuit alleged that Safeway sometimes charged prices that were higher than its lowest advertised prices, misrepresented the weight of Safeway-branded products, and posted signs in stores that conveyed the impression that certain produce was "locally grown" when it had in fact come from outside of California.
 
Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said in a statement, "It is unfortunate that major retailers such as Safeway continue these unfair business practices even after prior lawsuits have expressly forbidden them to do so. "This judgment will hopefully send a message to other major retailers not to engage in similar deceptive practices and that doing otherwise will subject them to significant penalties and litigation costs," Lieberstein said.
Mari March 08, 2014 at 09:32 AM
Trained to do. (Attorneys)
Edward March 09, 2014 at 03:38 AM
WheneverIi found I was being charged more than the advertized price, I would point it out and Safeway had a policy the the first item that was over charged for would be free and the rest would be given at the SALE price. When every Wednesday, prices are supposed to be updated in their computers that tell the cash registers what to charge, theer can be ommisions and that is why they offered the first item free, like an Easter Egg hunt, you find the error and win. Seems the DA found an error and got Safeway sold off to someone who will raise prices to pay the fines. nice going. The consumer gets nothing and the lawyers and courts cash in.
Donna Vickroy March 09, 2014 at 03:27 PM
Edward - much the same as I thought. Nice they got it all figured out and nice that Safeway must live up to their advertisements, however - those who paid more for (less priced) groceries see nothing from the awards. Our reward, perhaps, can be that we now know, going forward, Safeway will be more cautious. In truth we need to watch out for ourselves. Pay attention when your groceries are being checked and if you see an error - point it out at the time.
audrey lubow March 10, 2014 at 01:28 AM
So glad that so many government agencies are getting reimbursed - SO what about the CONSUMER???? Oh, that's right we just make the complaints and let others know how our market is lying to us -- but what do we get -- nothing -- not even a working wi-fi in the store to print out of shopping lists. TYPICAL!!! The employees of the Safeway I go to are the best its the Companies attitude toward us - that's not right. (Dublin store on Tassahara)
audrey lubow March 10, 2014 at 01:30 AM
left out a comma, employees G8 - Chain's treatment of Consumer - -5.

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