In a new ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Big Business to deprive you of your best weapon to fight back if you are cheated or harmed by corporate wrongdoing.
The court’s 5-4 decision in AT&T v. Concepcion — in which Public Citizen represented the plaintiffs — permits corporations to use consumer and employment contracts to take away your right to join class-action lawsuits.
If this sounds like something that matters only to lawyers, read on to learn just how much it matters to all of us.
You’ve likely entered into “agreements” with many corporations — maybe without even realizing it. When you bought a cell phone or rented a car. When you opened a bank account, got a credit card or refinanced your mortgage. When you saw a doctor or arranged medical care for a loved one. When you got hired at your job.
You didn’t get to negotiate the terms of these contracts. If you needed that phone or that job, you signed on the dotted line. And unless you’re a contracts attorney, you probably couldn’t make sense of all the legalese.
More and more, these contracts include what are known as binding mandatory arbitration clauses. The word “arbitration” may sound like a good thing: “Hey, let’s sit down and talk this out — nobody wants to go through a lawsuit.”
But in actuality, forced arbitration does not provide the protections of traditional trials, including the ability to gather information from corporate defendants. And the largest arbitration firms are heavily biased in favor of Big Business and against consumers.
The Supreme Court has ruled not only that corporations can force people into arbitration, but also that they can use arbitration clauses to deny those they harm the right join together to seek justice in a court of law.
In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Senator Al Franken, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Hank Johnson announced their plan to reintroduce the Arbitration Fairness Act in Congress.
As Senator Franken noted, the Supreme Court decision “essentially insulates companies from liability when they defraud a large number of customers of a relatively small amount of money,” whereas his bill would allow consumers to continue to “play an important role in holding corporations accountable.”