Target to pay $4 million fine for inaccurate pricing

Target Corp. has agreed to pay nearly $4 million to settle a civil complaint filed in Marin County alleging the national retailer charged customers more than the advertised price for its merchandise.

The district attorneys of Marin, Contra Costa, Fresno, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties and the San Diego City Attorney's Office filed the complaint. The judgment was signed Monday by Marin County Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson.

The complaint alleged that since early December 2008, Target unlawfully charged consumers prices higher than its lowest advertised price, misrepresented the weight of Target-brand products, sold commodities by gross weight and sold commodities in less quantities than represented, Marin County prosecutors said.

The complaint also alleged Target failed to abide by the injunctive provisions of a 2008 judgment in a case filed in Contra Costa County by the same plaintiffs.

That judgment prohibited Target from using any scanning system, such as those used at checkout stands, at its 250 stores in California unless Target maintained a compliance program to enhance pricing accuracy and corrected pricing errors.

Marin County Deputy District Attorney Andy Perez said the complaint alleged that the price Target charged its customers for bakery items, for example, also included the weight of the packaging.

Perez said Target also failed to remove the "on sale" price tags of items on shelves after the sale had expired.

Target is required to have an employee walk every aisle in the store at least once a week to look for and remove expired "on sale" price tags, Perez said.

Perez said Marin County's Agriculture, Weights and Measures division conducted retail inspections at Target stores in Novato and San Rafael. The settlement of the complaint applies to all Target stores in California, Perez said.

Target was ordered to pay $3,941,118 in civil penalties, investigative costs and restitution. Perez said Target will spend an additional $2 million to enact corrective programs and policies in addition to the $3.9 million settlement.

The settlement prohibits Target from making false or misleading statements regarding its advertised prices; charging an amount greater than the lowest advertised price; and selling commodities by gross weight and in less quantity than represented.

Target also must take significant measures to ensure price accuracy at all of its California stores by increasing in-store audits, holding comprehensive training for employees on price accuracy compliance programs and hiring a third-party auditor to ensure weight accuracy in Target-brand products.

David Frank McDowell Jr., the Los Angeles attorney who represented Target in the civil action, was not immediately available for comment this morning.
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