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Murrysville woman refuses to give Wal-Mart her 2 cents

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Friday, Sept. 30, 2011

The world's largest retailer found itself in court in Westmoreland County on Thursday to defend itself over 2 cents.

Wal-Mart claims new packaging caused a mix-up on the price of a pack of Banquet "Brown 'N Serve" sausage at its store near Delmont.

But Murrysville consumer activist Mary Bach claims the overcharge was intentional.

Murrysville District Judge Charles Conway sided with Bach in her civil lawsuit alleging unfair trade practices. He awarded Bach $100 in damages, plus about $80 in court costs.

Bach and her husband, Leonard, said the fight isn't over the money. They said the retail giant should be more diligent in ensuring that prices listed on store shelves match what prices scan at the register.

"This is the fifth lawsuit we've had against this store for the same problem," Mary Bach said. "This isn't an isolated incident."

Bach testified that on Aug. 20 she purchased the sausages, which had a posted price of 98 cents. But the scanners erred, charging her $1 when she checked out.

"The clerk did everything right when I pointed out the error and refunded me the difference and noted the error," Bach said.

However, six days later, she went back to the store to purchase more of the same sausage. The shelf price was still 98 cents, but she was again charged $1, she testified.

After the second error, Bach telephoned store manager Jason Porter. Porter testified he offered Bach another 2-cent refund, and he vowed to correct the mistake.

He said there was no intent to defraud, but Bach wasn't interested in a refund.

Wal-Mart attorney Timothy J. Nieman of Harrisburg argued that Bach, who has a 17-year history of legal haranguing over price discrepancies, wasn't really shopping for groceries, but was shopping for her next lawsuit.

"Never once have I been questioned by a cashier whether an item I'm purchasing is for my personal use or not," Bach said. "Everything I buy is for my personal use."

Bach told Conway her husband and grandchildren enjoy the sausages on a regular basis.

Under cross-examination by Nieman, she said she refused Porter's offer of a refund to "weigh my options." She said she takes merchants to court "as a last resort."

Porter testified the Delmont area store carries more than 50,000 items for about 29,000 customers who shop there each week. He estimated the store conducts about 5,000 to 6,000 price changes a week.

Porter said Banquet had just changed its packaging and its Universal Product Code. Both old and new packages were on the shelves. The old cost 98 cents. The new, $1, according to testimony.

He said store employees regularly check prices.

"Wal-Mart abandoned an earlier chainwide practice of offering scanner guarantees -- for no explainable reason -- and they also appear not to be following established store procedures for correcting scanner errors when customers report them. This also was occurring at two other stores, in Greensburg and North Versailles," Mary Bach said.

Wal-Mart has 30 days to appeal to Common Pleas Court. Nieman declined comment on its plans.

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