SALEM — Former Swampscott resident Kieran O’Hara, who worked as a bartender in Boston and New York, knew his beers.
After purchasing a pack of Guinness beer in 2015, he realized something didn’t add up, according to his lawyer, Kevin McCullough.
Fast-forward seven years and McCullough’s Salem firm, Mazow/McCullough, reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the company that produces Guinness Extra Stout Beer.
The issue: Where the quintessentially Irish beer was actually being brewed.
“This case was really about false advertising,” McCullough said Thursday.
The outer packaging of six- and 12-packs of Guinness Extra Stout sold in stores between 2011 and 2015, McCullough’s suit alleged, led consumers to believe that the beer was brewed at the historic St. James Gate brewery in Dublin, Ireland.
It was, in fact, being brewed in New Brunswick, Canada — something that was noted in small print on the side of each bottle.
And that’s something customers wouldn’t notice until getting the beer home, if they noticed at all.
McCullough and his associates contended that the labels were intentionally misleading to get consumers to pay a “price premium” for what they thought was an imported Irish beer. “Consumers were paying more based on a belief that this beer is coming from Ireland,” McCullough said.
They filed suit against Diageo, the company that owns the Guinness brand.
The firm pursued the case as a class-action lawsuit. A federal judge eventually ruled that they could pursue a class action in Massachusetts based on an alleged violation of the state’s consumer protection law.
At that point, the two sides sat down with a mediator and worked out the settlement, which was approved last fall by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf.
Diageo did not admit any liability or wrongdoing in the settlement.
“We are pleased both sides could come together to resolve this matter,” a spokeswoman for Diageo said in an email when asked for comment.
Under the agreement, just under $770,000 was set aside to reimburse customers. Those who filed a claim before a deadline last year will receive 50 cents for each six or 12-pack of Guinness Extra Stout purchased between 2011 and 2015, up to a total of $10 without proof of purchase, or up to $20, if a claimant can provide proof of purchase. The lawsuit and settlement applies only to retail packages of beer, not to wholesale bottles or kegs sold to bars and restaurants.
McCullough said at least 23,000 people submitted claims before the deadline last fall. He noted that since 2015, Guinness Extra Stout has been back to being brewed in Dublin.
The rest of the settlement will go to the lawyers, $1.3 million in legal fees and costs.
O’Hara will receive a $15,000 stipend for his role as lead plaintiff.
McCullough said his firm has handled more than 50 class-action cases, mostly involving violations of consumer protection laws.
The Guinness case was their first one involving mislabeled food items.