“Most people, or people like me, don’t take the time to read every little provision when they’re signing up or hitting accept on the Internet,” Michael Vathilakis said on Wednesday.
Law firms behind two class-action lawsuits launched against George Weston Ltd. and Loblaw Companies Ltd. for an alleged bread price-fixing arrangement are warning people not to blindly accept a $25 gift card offered by Loblaw.
Michael Vathilakis of Montreal-based law firm Renno Vathilakis Avocats Inc., one of the firms behind the Quebec lawsuit, said customers should ensure they’re aware of any provisions associated with the card.
“Before you register, be aware of what it is you’re signing over,” Vathilakis said on Wednesday. “Make sure you’re not relinquishing any rights.”
Two class-action lawsuits have been filed, in Quebec and Ontario, against Loblaw Companies Ltd. and George Weston Ltd., among others, alleging the companies conspired to fix the price of packaged bread in Canada since 2001.
In a statement issued this month, the two companies acknowledged the arrangement and confirmed they alerted the Competition Bureau after discovering the alleged scheme in 2015.
“This sort of behaviour is wrong and has no place in our business or Canada’s grocery industry,” said the chairman of both companies, Galen G. Weston, in a statement last week. “This should never have happened.”
At the same time, Loblaw announced the $25 gift card as a sort of goodwill gesture to any eligible customers.
But Vathilakis and the other law firms behind the lawsuits are warning that conditions could be hidden in the gift card’s fine print.
“Most people, or people like me, don’t take the time to read every little provision when they’re signing up or hitting accept on the Internet,” he said on Wednesday.
For instance, he said, one of the conditions could be that people who register for the card can no longer participate in the class-action lawsuit.
“We don’t know any of this yet,” he said. “They may not put any conditions on it at all. But my guess is that Loblaw may want something in return.”
It’s also possible consumers in Quebec incurred far greater losses through the years than the value of the gift card being offered, Vathilakis said.
Joey Zukran, a lawyer with LPC Avocat Inc., which is also behind the Quebec class action, said he feels the gift card offer is more promotional and self-serving than a fair compensation to customers.
“They’re likely going to profit more than anything from it,” Zukran said, adding that customers tend to spend more than $25 once they’re at the grocery store.
“Canadian consumers should not accept anything less than what they are entitled to under the law,” he said.
In an email response, Loblaw Companies Ltd. spokesperson Kevin Groh said the gift card offer “will not affect customers’ right to participate in any class action or to receive any incremental compensation that may be awarded by the court.”
Both class actions were filed in early November and are awaiting authorization. The Ontario suit is claiming more than $1 billion in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages.
Loblaw customers can register for the gift card at www.loblawcard.ca as of Jan. 8, 2018. The deadline to apply is May 8, 2018.