Notable False Advertising Whistleblowers
Affrunti v. Village Ford Sales, (3rd. Dist. Ct. App. 1992)
Richard Affrunti was looking to buy a car when he went to a used car lot, Village Ford Sales. The salesman, Fred Galaraza, showed him a blue 1986 Celebrity, on which the odometer read 29,000 miles. The car lacked a price, so Affrunti then requested one from Galaraza. The salesman claimed he had to ask management and proceeded to show Affrunti a few other cars on the lot. Then, without heading to the office, the salesman told Affrunti the Celebrity was $8,600. After haggling for a brief period, the two came to an agreement of $8,524. Affrunti, headed home, proud of his new purchase, only to find a Village Sales advertisement in a local paper. The advertisement featured a car with the exact description of the one that Affrunti had just bought, the only difference being the price: $6,995. Furious, Affrunti called Village Sales to demand his money back. The manager, while at first admitting that it was the same car, later claimed the car in the advertisement was sold at auction and was in no way the same car Affrunti had purchased. Affrunti didn't buy it. He pushed it to trial and a judge ruled in his favor, saying it was the dealership's responsibility to tell the consumer of the price if it has been advertised. The concealment of the price was found to constitute deception in the eyes of the law. Affrunti was awarded the difference between the price he paid and the price advertised.
United States of America ex rel. Mary Hendow and Julie Albertson v. University of Phoenix
Hendow and Albertson were enrollment counselors for the University of Phoenix. The University of Phoenix is the U.S.'s biggest private, for-profit high learning institution that caters to adults. The two plaintiffs were constantly pressured to recruit more students. Of the students that signed up, 80% received federal financial aid. This means the university can collect about $2 billion in federal money, citing student tuition as the reason. Of the first time freshmen, there was a 7% attrition rate. This, however, was never told to the prospective students, nor was it disclosed by the University of Phoenix anywhere on it's advertising material. Although a student will likely never finish the program, they are still required to pay all their loans back, perhaps even for decades. The plaintiffs claimed that they were forced to persuade potential students to enroll without regard to whether or not they were academically qualified for higher learning. Additionally, the recruiters were paid based on how many students they enrolled, a practice which is illegal for institutions which qualify for financial aid. The case was eventually settled outside of court, with the University of Phoenix paying $78.5 million, by far the largest amount of money paid for a case involving the department of education.
Obney v. Taco Bell
This is the most recent notable false advertising lawsuit, happening earlier in 2011. Amanda Obney instigated this lawsuit against the fast food giant. She alleges that the meat inside Taco Bell's products is not in fact beef according to the USDA. The USDA definition of beef is "flesh of cattle," whereas the meat that fills tortillas in every Taco Bell kitchen across the country is composed of a majority of binders, seasonings, extenders, etc. The USDA, forced by the lawsuit to further define ground beef, stated that it is required to "consist of chopped fresh and/or frozen beef with or without seasoning and without the addition of beef fat as such, shall not contain more than 30 percent fat, and shall not contain added water, phosphates, binders or extenders." The plaintiff, having tested the "meat," had determined that there was no more than 35% beef in the mixture. Obney, a California resident, was not seeking monetary damages from the lawsuit, rather that Taco Bell revise their ads.