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When I read this headline in my daily ABA Journal email newsletter (“Harvard law grad claims $4 overcharge on take-out food, seeks treble damages in emailed war of words”), I figured it was just another story about an entitled, strung out attorney who freaked out about some small occurrence in their non-legal life and sent an email that may or may not be an embarrassment to the profession.
But I found myself intrigued. This Harvard law grad and Harvard Business School professor, Ben Edelman, went further than just one litigious tabloid-worthy email after being overcharged for his Chinese food at Brookline restaurant Sichuan Garden. Instead, he demanded treble damages, warned that he had contacted “all applicable authorities” so that the restaurant would be fined, threatened further legal action, and relentlessly argued for a 50 percent refund of his takeout bill. All this in a lengthy series of emails with the restaurant manager (later published on Boston.com), simply because Edelman had ordered four items and was charged $1 extra for each.
The manager apologized, explained that the menu had not been updated in awhile, and offered a refund for the extra amount. But this gesture only further infuriated Edelman, who quickly began reciting the Massachusetts consumer protection code and warned that the Sichuan Garden would like incur serious fines, given how many customers had likely been overcharged. The exchange goes on. And on. I started having flashbacks of unpleasant written exchanges with opposing counsel. You wonder, why does this guy care so much about $4?
It could be because, as reported by Boston.com, “[i]n addition to teaching at HBS, Edelman also operates a consulting practice where he advises clients like Microsoft, the NFL, the New York Times, and Universal Music on ‘preventing and detecting online fraud (especially advertising fraud).’” OK, so maybe he cares deeply about (protecting large corporations from allegations of) consumer fraud. That’s still no reason to go after a mom-and-pop local restaurant, with so much disproportionate aggression and an unfettered sense of entitlement. (But remember, “the Ivy League doesn’t have a lock on arrogance.”)
Edelman does have a point, though, that many Sichuan Garden customers who placed telephone orders were overcharged “for quite some time” while the website prices were outdated. That likely added up to a lot of money. And it’s nice to know that the law protects consumers against false advertising of prices, however small; as a result of this story, local restaurants and patrons will hopefully pay more close attention. It’s unfortunate that it took such a nasty exchange to bring this issue to light.
Edelman issued an apology shortly after the incident caught the media’s attention. Did Sichuan Garden deserve to bear the brunt of his arrogance and wrath? Probably not. (See outpouring of love they have received as a result.) Will I examine my next takeout receipt more carefully next time? Most certainly.
Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School Professor, Goes to War Over $4 Worth of Chinese Food
Benjamin Edelman, Jonathan Gruber show dangers of arrogance
Harvard law grad claimed $4 overcharge on take-out, sought treble damages in emailed war of words
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