Two Kentucky women have filed a class-action lawsuit against Applebee's restaurants and Weight Watchers for allegedly promoting inaccurate nutritional values in the restaurant chain's menu.
Anita Kramer and Elizabeth Mason of Florence say the restaurant chain, its parent company, DineEquity Inc., and Weight Watchers lied about the calorie count and fat content of Weight Watchers-endorsed entrees, specifically the Teriyaki Steak 'N Shrimp Skewers and the Cajun Lime Tilapia, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky on Aug. 10.
Kramer and Mason say the restaurant and the weight-loss company "engaged in deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading acts and practices" because the food "contained significantly more fat and calories per serving," than what was labeled in the menu, the lawsuit states.
The case was originally filed in Boone Circuit Court in October. It is one of four similar class-act ion lawsuits against the companies pending in Ohio, Illinois and Kansas, according to documents filed in the Kentucky case.
Applebee's, DineEquity and Weight Watchers deny the claims that they misrepresented nutritional information.
"We stand behind the information we provide," Applebee's spokesman Patrick Lenow said.
Applebee's entered a partnership with Weight Watchers in 2003 "to provide health conscious menu items" at the restaurant, the Kentucky lawsuit states. The restaurant chain placed a Weight Watchers logo that included the number of points — the company's food value system that factors in calories, fat and fiber — next to menu items within the partnership. The menu also listed the number of calories and amount of fat in each serving.
The steak and shrimp skewers were labeled as having 370 calories and 7 grams of fat per serving, according to the lawsuit. The tilapia allegedly had 310 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving.
But "the actual skewers product as sold to the public was found to contain 8.3 grams of fat and 456 calories when independently tested," the lawsuit states. "Similarly, the tilapia was found to have 14.3 grams of fat and 401 calories." The lawsuit did not explain who conducted the tests.
Kramer and Mason also reference the Jan. 10, 2008, edition of The Wall Street Journal, which detailed the results of an investigation into the skewers. The Wall Street Journal testing revealed "that the skewers had more fat grams and more calories than Applebee's and Weight Watchers had previously advertised," the lawsuit states.
Lenow said there is some "natural variability" in calories and fat content when the same dish is prepared by different cooks. But employees are trained to prevent large variances from the listed nutritional values, he said.
Applebee's includes a disclaimer in its menu that alerts customers about the potential for slight changes in nutritional values, Lenow said.
"Guests deserve accurate information, and they can rely on information from us," he said.
Kramer and Mason seek to represent all Kentucky Applebee's customers who bought Weight Watchers menu items.
"Plaintiffs and members of the Class have suffered actual damages through consuming food that was more caloric and unhealthy than Defendants represented," the lawsuit states.
They did not specify what damages occurred.
Kramer and Mason seek compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees.
The Central Kentucky franchise-holder for Applebee's restaurants, Lexington-based Thomas & King, is not a defendant in the lawsuit.