New York Attorney General Letitia James has sued one of the country's largest egg producers, Hillandale Farms, for price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit alleges hundreds of Brooklyn stores were impacted by markups that were passed on to consumers, including Stop & Shops, BJ's Wholesale Clubs, Associated Supermarkets, Western Beef and U.S. military bases at West Point, Fort Hamilton and Fort Drum.
Hillandale quadrupled the price of more than 4 million eggs during March and April, with many going to low-income communities in New York at the height of the pandemic, the lawsuit alleges. James and her team are seeking restitution for customers forced to pay excessive prices.
James said Hillandale exploited hardworking New Yorkers to line its own pockets. "In less than two months, Hillandale made millions by cheating our most vulnerable communities and our servicemembers, actions that are both unlawful and truly rotten," she said.
"I will always stand up for working people, especially when they are taken advantage of by corporate greed."
The lawsuit alleges Hillandale, which is based in Ohio and Pennsylvania, made around $4 million during March and April from the markups.
In January, Hillandale charged Western Beef supermarkets between $0.59 to $1.10 for a dozen large white eggs. On March 15, Hillandale raised that price to $1.49. As the pandemic progressed, Hillandale raised prices for Western Beef repeatedly, reaching $2.93 per dozen, almost five times January's price.
One elderly consumer complained to the AG's Office that he attempted to buy Hillandale eggs at a Fine Fare store on the Lower East Side in April only to find that, "all prices are $2.30 and double the price." He said: "I've been living in the community for 65 years. The prices are ridiculous...Sad and disrespectful to people who are buying from them all our lives."
Hillandale raised prices to take advantage of consumer demand, the lawsuit alleges, stating the company did not face increased costs itself.
President and CEO of the Community Service Society David R. Jones said it was beyond reprehensible that a big company like Hillandale would seek to capitalize on a global health crisis to make a profit.
"Even more appalling is that countless low-income families in New York, already struggling financially in the wake of the coronavirus, were forced to pay in some cases five times the price for an essential food item, eggs," he said.
"We applaud State Attorney General James for seeking injunctive relief barring Hillandale Farms from further price-gouging, civil penalties, disgorgement of its illegal profits, and restitution for consumers who were harmed."
It is the second suit targeting coronavirus related price gouging brought by James. In May, James sued Quality King Distributors for illegally raising prices on Lysol disinfectant products sold in New York.