OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- The Clorox Company has agreed to pay nearly $200,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged that it shortchanged consumers by only filling specialty bleach bottles to 80 percent of their capacity, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office announced Wednesday.
Marin, Monterey, Napa and Sonoma counties joined Alameda County in bringing the consumer protection regulatory action against Clorox, which is based in Oakland. Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay approved the settlement Wednesday.
Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Scott Patton said Clorox cooperated fully with the district attorneys in resolving the investigation and stipulated to the judgment without admitting liability.
He said the settlement makes Clorox subject to an injunction that prohibits it from selling any household bleach products that are packaged in such a way as to be misleading or deceptive, or contain any unnecessary headspace.
The investigation involved two specialty bleach products sold in retail locations throughout California from January 2008 to January 2010: Anti-Allergen Bleach and Cold-Water Bleach.
It began after the California Division of Measurement Standards and local Weights and Measures Departments brought the consumer action to the attention of the local district attorney's offices.
Patton said the district attorneys alleged that the specialty bleaches were sold in the same 3-liter bottles as Clorox Regular Bleach but were filled to only 80 percent of capacity in violation of California's Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.
He said the state's Fair Packaging and Labeling Act protects consumers against deception or misrepresentation by requiring that commodities be packaged and labeled in a manner that will facilitate value comparisons and enable consumers to obtain accurate information about the quantity of the contents.
Patton said prosecutors believed that Clorox was violating the law by having "unnecessary head space" in the specialty bleach bottles.
Bottles of regular Clorox bleach are filled to 95 percent of capacity, he said.
Clorox attempted to justify the way it was filling the specialty bleach bottles but cooperated with prosecutors and agreed to settle the matter, Patton said.
"We agreed to disagree," he said.
Clorox spokesman Dan Staubin said the company "denies all claims alleged by the plaintiffs."
But Staubin said Clorox elected to settle the matter "due to the costs and resources that were required to engage in litigation."
He said Clorox no longer makes the specialty bleach products.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said, "Weights and measures laws exist so that consumers may accurately calculate the costs of their purchases. It allows consumers to do meaningful comparison shopping between businesses and products."
O'Malley said, "Misrepresentations of the actual contents of a product harm both consumers and other businesses."
Patton said the proceeds of Clorox's $200,000 civil penalty will be divided between the five counties that brought the case and also go to a consumer protection trust fund.
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