Dollar General will pay the state of Vermont $1.75 million in a settlement over pricing discrepancies found by inspectors. The deal is the largest Vermont-only settlement ever for the consumer protection unit of the Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney General TJ Donovan said Dollar General repeatedly misrepresented the price of its products from mid-October in 2013 to late January in 2019.
“They advertised one price on the shelves, and then they upped the price at the register, ripping off hard-working homeowners,” Donovan said at a press conference at the Foodbank in Barre Thursday.
Donovan said Dollar General violated Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act. From the $1.75 million settlement, $1.65 million will go to the state and $100,000 will go to the Vermont Foodbank.
Pursuant to the settlement, Dollar General must train employees and hire new ones who will be responsible for ensuring accurate prices. It must also conduct internal audits to ensure accurate pricing, and report failed audits to the AG’s office.
“Although we do not necessarily agree with all of the statements made by the Vermont Attorney General’s office, we have appreciated their constructive approach to resolving this matter,” Dollar General said in a statement on Friday.
The company strives to provide pricing accuracy and take prompt action to correct pricing anomalies, according to the statement.
There are 36 Dollar General stores in Vermont. Inspectors from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets randomly sampled 50 to 100 products to compare shelf prices with register prices over a six-year period. They found 362 violations at 22 different Dollar General stores, said Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. Of those violations, the prices at the register exceeded the label prices in a range of two cents to $6, he said.
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“We could assume Dollar General misrepresented the price of hundreds of thousands of products, and consumers, Vermonters, were overcharged hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Donovan said.
Dollar General had been instructed to correct the pricing inaccuracies at least 50 times, Tebbetts said, but the violations continued.
The company has already paid at least $241,700 in penalties to the agency, according to the AG’s office. There was no evidence provided to indicate that the violations were willful.
“This type of violation is found fairly regularly. However, as has been pointed out before, the significance is not often as great as this,” said Kristin Haas, the director of food safety and consumer protection with the agriculture agency.
“Dollar General is now on our radar,” Donovan said.
Dollar General has marketed to low-income families, and Donovan said 57% of its consumers have income of less than $49,000 a year.
The company prides itself on its low prices, advertising that it accepts the benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP and formerly referred to as the food stamp program.
John Sayles, the chief executive officer of Vermont Foodbank, said a lot of people the Foodbank serves are customers at Dollar General. The settlement will be used to purchase fresh food that will be distributed at schools, hospitals, after-school centers, senior centers and homeless shelters, Sayles said.
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