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Harvard Business School professor goes ballistic with legal threats over $4 worth of Chinese takeout food

Harvard Business School

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(NaturalNews) Was it a case of MSG addiction gone postal or an honest attempt at protecting the public against fraud? Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelmen's recent email exchanges with a Chinese restaurant owner ruffled some feathers in the local media after it was discovered that Edelmen threatened legal action over a $4 overcharge at the food establishment, which he says blatantly violated Massachusetts consumer protection laws.

It all began when Edelman ordered takeout from Sichuan Garden, a popular Chinese restaurant with two locations in the Boston area. For each of the four meals he ordered, Edelman was charged $1 more than the advertised price on the restaurant's website, prompting him to contact the establishment via email to notify its owners of the discrepancy.

In response, Ran Duan, whose parents founded the restaurant, apologized for the discrepancy and offered to send Edelman an updated menu, but didn't offer to refund the difference. Edelman challenged this response by pointing out that a Massachusetts General Law Title XV Chapter 93a consumer protection statute requires that restaurants refund three times the amount of the overcharge as damages.

Duan initially refused, offering instead to refund $3, which was $1 short of the $4 that Edelman had been overcharged for the meals. Well-versed in the legal aspects of false advertising, Edelman escalated the situation by explaining to Duan that simply offering to refund the overcharge isn't enough, and that charging higher than the advertised prices for takeout food is a serious violation.

"It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred," wrote Edelman in his response. "You don't seem to recognize that this is a legal matter and calls for a more thoughtful and far-reaching resolution."

After several back-and-forth exchanges, Edelman told Duan that he had already contacted the "applicable Boston authorities," to which Duan responded that he would have to wait for a response before proceeding. At one point, Duan offered to refund the full $12 that Edelman demanded, but then proceeded to deny this amount, claiming that he was advised by a professional not to honor it.

"I still think the right resolution on your part is to a [sic] refund to me in more than the amount by which I was overcharged," maintained Edelman after much bickering, urging Duan to actively refund all the customers who were more than likely also overcharged, but probably didn't take notice of it.

"When appropriate authorities ask you about this, I'm sure they'll be pleased to see that you have provided generous more-than-refunds to all customers who flagged the problem."

Mom and pop or not, restaurants that break the law need to be held accountable, suggests Edelman

As extreme as they might sound to some, Edelman's arguments are largely valid -- Sichuan Garden appears to have been overcharging customers for meals without updating or changing the menu on its website, which seems to violate Massachusetts law. But his dogmatic approach to dealing with the problem, and the cold, unforgiving way in which he communicated with the restaurant, suggests a lack of compassionate humanity.

"I personally respond to every complaint and try to handle every situation personally," stated Duan to Boston.com. Duan currently manages The Baldwin Bar, which is located in the Woburn location of Sichuan Garden.

"I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business. It just broke my heart," he added about the aggressive email exchange.

In his defense, Edelman told the news source that he typically focuses on larger companies that commit these types of violations. But in his view, the situation even at this "mom and pop" shop deserved attention, and this is simply looking out for the interests of restaurant patrons.

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