A Pennsylvania K-Mart levied an illegal $0.28 tax on Mary Bach’s $3.99 12-pack of Angel Soft toilet paper. Pennsylvania’s sales tax guide clearly states that toilet paper is a non-taxable item. Mary first spoke with a cashier after noticing the illegal charge. When K-Mart again charged her the tax on a second visit, she decided to sue.
A self-styled consumer advocate who heads AARP’s Pennsylvania consumer issues task force, she has been crusading against price scanner errors for nearly 25 years. Her efforts helped spur laws requiring scanner inspections by the state’s Bureau of Weights and Measures.
“Somebody has to draw attention the problems in the marketplace with these kinds of issues,” she said.
Most notably, she has taken on Wal-Mart, CVS and the now-defunct Hechinger over price scanning errors.
In the case of Wal-Mart, the giant retailer paid her $100 plus court costs in 2002 for charging sales tax on a pair of ballerina-style bedroom slippers. In court, Wal-Mart’s attorney argued that sales tax was appropriate because the slippers were classified as dancing shoes, she says. “It makes for a funny story.”
Besides her latest suit, she has hauled Kmart to court three other times for charging her a higher price on an item than promised in an advertisement or display. In all three cases, both sides showed up at the magistrate’s office but reached a settlement before arguments were heard, Mrs. Bach says.
Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law allows plaintiffs to sue either for the amount of damages, or $100 – whichever is greater. If K-Mart doesn’t want to settle, a District Judge will decide Mary’s case on Halloween.