Investigation of area Dollar General stores prompts $1M settlement

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

The state attorney general has reached a $1 million settlement with Dollar General after an investigation into 20 of the discount stores in Southwest Ohio and found prices on store shelves were lower than at the registers.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost took Dollar General to court in Butler County a year ago after his office received 12 more complaints statewide. From March 2021 to August 2022, they received complaints detailing similar “unfair and deceptive practices” by Dollar General stores in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Highland, Lucas, Madison, Richland, Summit and Trumbull counties.

He was seeking penalties of $25,000 per violation, restitution for shoppers who have been harmed and an injunction to stop the pricing differential. He alleged “unfair and deceptive acts and practices” and “bait advertising.”

Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Oster recently outlined the settlement reached in the case writing Dollar General will pay the AG’s office $750,000 which will be distributed to Ohio food banks or other charitable organization “to be used solely for the purchase and distribution of food or personal care items.”

Oster noted the payment was the best way to handle things since “it would be nearly impossible to identify all or even most such consumers.”

“This is a win for Ohio consumers,” Hannah Hundley, a spokesperson for Yost’s office, told the Journal-News. “We are in the process of finalizing how those funds will be distributed to local communities.”

Dollar General will also pay $250,000 in penalties and reimbursement for investigative costs.

Oster wrote the settlement does not mean Dollar General is admitting any wrongdoing.

“Defendants represent that they have entered into this order for the purpose of settling and compromising disputed claims without having to incur the burdens and expense of contested litigation,” Oster wrote. “Defendants deny liability as to all claims.”

Dollar General told the Journal-News the company “appreciated the constructive approach” Yost’s office took in the matter.

“Dollar General is committed to providing customers with accurate prices on items purchased in our stores, and we are disappointed any time we fail to deliver on this commitment,” the statement reads. “When a pricing discrepancy is identified, our store teams are empowered to correct the matter on the spot for our customers.”

When Yost filed the lawsuit, he condemned Dollar General.

“Everything we buy these days costs more — Ohioans can ill-afford businesses that draw people in with the promise of low prices only to deceive them at the checkout counter,” Yost said. “This seems like a company trying to make an extra buck and hoping no one will notice. We’ve not only noticed but are taking action to stop it.”

Last October the Butler County Auditor’s office was notified by St. Clair Twp. resident William Anderson the prices on the shelves at the Dollar General at 950 S. Main St. in Hamilton and the amount cashed out didn’t match. It is the auditor’s job to test commercial devises like gas pumps and store scanners.

They began conducting price verification checks at all 20 county Dollar General stores on Oct. 14, 2022. The results showed double-digit error rates up to 88%. A store is allowed only a plus or minus 2% error rate.

Anderson told the Journal-News he was happy to be a whistleblower but the settlement amount wasn’t adequate.

“That seems too low because they’re still overcharging, it should have been $10 million or $20 million after all; here they were overcharging all the time...,” Anderson said. “I’m very proud because when I blew the whistle somebody had to pay.”

Butler County Auditor Nancy Nix said they received another complaint against Dollar General recently and that is still being investigated. An earlier complaint was lodged in January but it couldn’t be verified because the items were sold out.

She said they checked more than 7,000 commercial devices for accuracy last year but they also rely on people like Anderson to notify them if “something doesn’t seem right.”

“Our staff has been back to check stores and things were better, but we believe there is still room for improvement,” Nix said. “Dollar General stores will again be checked this year, but if shoppers notice issues they should definitely give our office a call.”

The settlement that was signed in September outlines specific “compliance provisions” designed to correct the alleged errors. It says the stores must be suitably staffed to update shelf tags, there are training requirements, district managers must conduct price checks every 45 days among other policy provisions.

It also says if a customer claims the shelf price is lower than the register charge, the cashier must “adjust the price to the amount for which the customer contends is the shelf tag or adjust the price to the amount reflected on the shelf tag price upon price check by an employee.”.

This has happened elsewhere nationwide. In 2019, Dollar General reached a $1.75 million settlement with the state of Vermont for violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act, according to a release from Vermont’s Attorney General’s Office. Dollar General resolved claims that it sold products that were advertised on the shelf at a lower price than the price at the register, even after being told at least 50 times by state inspectors to correct the pricing inaccuracies.

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