A lawsuit filed against Kohl's by district attorney's offices in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Fresno and Sacramento counties alleged that sales prices and discounts on items did not always register when scanned at checkout, Deputy District Attorney Tiyen Lin said.
The settlement agreement prohibits Kohl's stores in the counties from charging patrons more than the lowest price advertised for products and requires the chain to refund the amount of any overcharges, Lin said.
The district attorney's offices based their suits on an investigation into Kohl's stores launched in 2009 by county weights and measures departments throughout California that monitor cash registers in stores, Lin said.
Kohl's has 126 stores statewide and seven outlets in Santa Clara County, Lin said.
Based on inspections of prices posted on Kohl's store shelves and those charged by store cash registers, the county officials found hundreds of items with inaccurate prices.
Kohl's used digitized price meters on the aisles of its stores and sometimes employees would enter inaccurate prices in store computers that showed up on customer receipts at checkout, Lin said.
After the investigation started, Kohl's switched from paper tags on items to electronic tags to avoid scanning errors at the register, but inspectors still detected pricing mistakes, according to Lin.
The chain, which did not admit wrongdoing in the case, cooperated with the district attorney offices in the investigation, Lin said. The $409,000 civil penalty to be paid by Kohl's in the suit will be split up among the four counties to pay for the costs of prosecuting consumer complaints.
The threat of more civil penalties, litigation costs and publicity about inaccurate pricing should provide incentives for Kohl's to avoid the problem in the future, Lin said.
Consumers in Santa Clara County who believe they were overcharged at Kohl's may call the Scanner Hotline at 1-866-SCANNER (722-6637).