Jimin Chen received two worrisome letters this summer. Both came from a law firm hired by Home Depot (HD). The first demanded payment of $350 to settle claims that he shoplifted from a California store. According to Chen, in early June he had been wrongly accused of taking two pairs of work gloves (priced at $3.99 each) as he purchased nearly $1,500 worth of merchandise from Home Depot. A second letter demanded $625. Both helpfully included five ways he could pay, and both threatened legal action if he didn’t.
Chen didn’t pay. Instead, on Sept. 5, he filed a class-action lawsuit (PDF) in California Superior Court, alleging that Home Depot is shaking down customers for arbitrary and unjust damages for shoplifting charges and using false threats of criminal prosecution. There are laws in all 50 states that allow retailers to claim damages from shoplifters. Chen accuses the retailer of using the California law, which limits payments to $500, “to intimidate consumers into paying money to which Home Depot is not entitled.”
Stephen Holmes, a spokesman for Home Depot, says the company has not yet reviewed the details of the case but maintains that the general practice of civil demands is lawful.