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Class-Action Suit Accuses Some LA Restaurants Of Price-Fixing

SANTA MONICA ( — Some of Los Angeles' most popular restaurants are being accused of price-fixing in a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The suit alleges the owner of Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica started the discussions over a year ago with the owners of seven other L.A. restaurants to add a three percent surcharge to bills, money that they say helps pay for their employees' healthcare.

But the suit claims the owners of Animal, AOC, The Hungry Cat, Lucques, Mélisse, Rustic Canyon, Son of a Gun, and Trois Mec conspired to raise their prices together, violating antitrust laws.

The San Francisco attorney, who represents a lead LA-based plaintiff, a customer upset by the charge, spoke to CBS2 via Skype.

"Under California law, competitors cannot get together and agree to increase the prices of the goods or services," said Daniel Sterrett, an attorney.

The complaint alleges Josiah Citrin, a chef and co-owner of Mélisse, wrote an email that said in part: "We decided it would be a good thing to do it as a group … usually when lots of people do things it's easier to make change."

Sterrett says he doesn't dispute the money goes to employee's healthcare, but adds: "At the end of the day, a 3 percent increase is a 3 percent increase. We're not here to harm employees. We just want accountability here for these restaurants to be honest with their patrons."

Patrons CBS2 spoke with said they don't mind.

"I'm OK with it as long as you are aware of the fact that that's gonna be charged, and they're upfront about it," said one patron.

Other customers say they appreciate the restaurants' actions.

"I think it's a great service that they do for their employees," said another patron.

A representative from Son of a Gun and Animal say they don't charge that extra 3 percent, but the plaintiff's attorney says they are still at fault because he claims they encourage other restaurants to do so.

Other restaurant representatives either could not comment on the allegations or didn't return CBS2's calls.

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