Consumers Not Lovin’ Happy Meal Price Get OK for McDonald’s Suit

A Happy Meal and McFlurry are arranged for a photograph at a McDonald's Corp. fast food restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., on Oct. 21, 2017. McDonald's Corp. is scheduled to release earning figures on October 23. Photographer: Caitlin O'Hara/Bloomberg

McDonald’s must face a proposed class suit alleging it deceptively “upcharges” customers for healthy drinks ordered with Happy Meals.

Floridian Emily Knowles stated a viable claim under Florida’s consumer protection laws based on alleged misleading menu board prices, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida said Feb. 9.

Her suit joins others challenging retail pricing practices in other industries. Suits in California, New York, and Illinois have survived motions to dismiss, obtained class certification, and won headline-grabbing monetary settlements.

Knowles alleged the fast-food giant advertised Happy Meals on menu boards at fixed costs, knowing that customers were being hit with an undisclosed drink fee at restaurants nationwide if they ordered a healthy option.

Knowles, for example, alleged she was charged an additional 30 cents for a milk when buying a Happy Meal at a Delray Beach, Fla., location, and was told by a restaurant employee that “milk is always more expensive.”

“As alleged in the Complaint, this is a classic case of ‘bait and switch,’ where McDonald’s USA advertised a fixed price to attract customers knowing that its franchisees would switch the price structure by adding-on costs on the pretext that the healthier drinks were more expensive,” the court said.

McDonald’s wasn’t immediately available for comment. But in opposing dismissal, it pointed to language on the menu boards that said “additional charges may apply.”

But the court said at this early stage of the litigation, it can’t make a determination that the disclaimer language makes the menu boards not deceptive.

Wasch Raines LLP represents the plaintiff. Leon Cosgrove, LLC represents McDonald’s USA.

The case is Knowles v. McDonald’s USA, LLC, S.D. Fla., No. 16-81657, 2/9/18.