subway lawsuit

Two Indian American women have filed a lawsuit against the Subway Corporation, claiming the substance it uses in its tuna fish sandwich is not tuna, or any fish at all. Subway has denied the allegations, saying they are baseless. (Subway Web site photo)

What exactly is that Subway tuna fish sandwich made of? Two Indian American plaintiffs are suing the fast-food enterprise, claiming there is no tuna in the popular meal.

Alameda County, California residents Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin, represented by Santa Monica attorney Shalina Dogra, filed a lawsuit Jan. 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the Subway corporation, its parent company, and its advertising unit, claiming that the company was falsely promoting its tuna salad sandwiches as composed of wild tuna, when it actually has no tuna or any other fish in it.

The suit — which proposes to be a class action suit to involve thousands of customers who purchased tuna sandwiches and wraps — claims that Subway has participated in common law fraud, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment, among other infractions. It seeks more than $5 million in damages.

Subway has the world’s largest number of franchises, with 24,000 in the U.S., and 2,000 in India. More than 70 percent of the sandwich shop’s franchisees are Indian American. New franchisees are charged only $15,000 — a modest amount compared to similar operations — and turn in eight percent of their gross revenue.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that they had taken Subway’s tuna salad to a lab to determine its composition. The lawsuit claimed that the lab found no evidence of tuna, or any other fish. The lawsuit did not state what substances were in the composition that was allegedly being passed off as tuna.

Dogra had not returned India-West’s calls for comment by press time. She told The Washington Post in an email: “We found that the ingredients were not tuna and not fish.”

“The plaintiffs were tricked into buying food items that wholly lacked the ingredient they reasonably thought they were purchasing,” read the lawsuit, stating that consumers bought the tuna sandwiches based on Subway’s advertising of the product. “Had plaintiffs and other consumers known the products actually lacked tuna, they would not have purchased the products or would have paid significantly less for them,” read the suit.

Priced at $8.49, Subway’s foot-long tuna sandwich is more expensive than many of its meat counterparts.

“Consumers place a heightened value on tuna as an ingredient,” stated the lawsuit.

But, in fact, tuna is one of the cheapest sandwich fillings. A 5 oz can of Whole Foods 365 brand skipjack tuna costs $1.99. By comparison, 6 oz. of Whole Foods brand oven-roasted turkey is $3.79; the same quantity of ham is $5.79.

Subway also ostensibly uses skipjack tuna, the most-widely fished type of tuna.  On its Web site, the company said it uses 100 percent wild-caught tuna. “It’s real,” states the company, currently offering 15 percent off on its tuna sandwiches and wraps.

The company stated in a Jan. 28 press release that the claims in the lawsuit are baseless.

"There simply is no truth to the allegations in the complaint that was filed in California.  Subway delivers 100 percent cooked tuna to its restaurants, which is mixed with mayonnaise and used in freshly made sandwiches, wraps and salads that are served to and enjoyed by our guests.” 

“The taste and quality of our tuna make it one of Subway's most popular products and these baseless accusations threaten to damage our franchisees, small business owners who work tirelessly to uphold the high standards that Subway sets for all of its products, including its tuna.” Given the facts, the lawsuit constitutes a reckless and improper attack on Subway's brand and goodwill, and on the livelihood of its California franchisees, said the company, adding: “Indeed, there is no basis in law or fact for the plaintiffs' claims, which are frivolous and are being pursued without adequate investigation.”

"Unfortunately, this lawsuit is part of a trend in which the named plaintiffs' attorneys have been targeting the food industry in an effort to make a name for themselves in that space,” it said.

Subway has until March 17 to respond to the suit in court.

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