Business & Tech

He couldn’t believe it was butter. So he sued Dunkin’ Donuts.

Is that butter on a toasted bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts?

He couldn’t believe it was butter. So he sued. And, yes, he got a settlement out of it.

In a pair of lawsuits filed in Suffolk Superior Court in March, a Worcester-area man named Jan Polanik accused more than 20 Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in Eastern and Central Massachusetts of a grand deception: using a butter substitute on his bagels, even though he had ordered the bagels with butter.

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The suits, each targeting a different group of related franchises, are seeking class-action status and claim to represent any customer who “ordered a baked product, such as a bagel, with butter, but instead received margarine or butter substitute between June 24, 2012, and June 24, 2016.”

Polanik was unavailable for comment. His attorney, Thomas Shapiro, acknowledged that Dunkin’s buttering habits are not the most pressing issue in the world.

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“Candidly, it seems like a really minor thing, and we thought twice or three times about whether to bring a lawsuit or not,” Shapiro said.

However, Shapiro said, there were good reasons to press the case.

“A lot of people prefer butter,” he said.

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“The main point of the lawsuit is to stop the practice of representing one thing and selling a different thing. It’s a minor thing, but at the same time, if somebody goes in and makes a point to order butter for the bagel . . . they don’t want margarine or some other kind of chemical substitute.”

In 2013, when the issue surfaced in a Globe consumer advice column, Dunkin’ Donuts explained that franchisees usually offer butter packets when customers ask for it on the side, but a butter substitute is “generally used if the employee applies the topping.”

“For food safety reasons, we do not allow butter to be stored at room temperature, which is the temperature necessary for butter to be easily spread onto a bagel or pastry,” the company said at the time.

The company said it wasn’t aware of the lawsuit. But Dunkin’ Brands spokeswoman Michelle King said most stores in Massachusetts “carry both individual whipped butter packets, and a butter-substitute vegetable spread.”

The legal action may resuscitate memories of past fast-food lawsuits, such as when McDonald’s was sued by a customer who said that its coffee was so hot it burned her.

More recently, Subway faced a widely mocked class-action suit by customers who said the chain’s heavily advertised foot-long sandwiches were not, in fact, a full 12 inches.

Ten plaintiffs won $500 each, while attorneys were awarded more than half a million dollars.

A settlement has already been reached in the Dunkin’ case, said Michael Marino, an attorney representing one of the two franchise groups.

He declined to say if his company paid Polanik and his attorneys.

Moreover, the 17 stores in the franchises represented by Marino have changed the way they provide butter, although he declined to specify how. “The litigant is satisfied with the operational changes made in those stores,” Marino said.

A spokesman for the second group of franchises did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shapiro said the settlement terms will be filed with the court in the coming weeks, and declined to discuss them until then.

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.
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