In a nutshell, forced arbitration takes away a consumer’s right to file a lawsuit against the provider of a service or a product. Hidden deep within that contract you agreed to when purchasing a smartphone, getting a new credit card or simply shopping online at your favorite retailer’s website is a clause. These clauses are worded in different ways but they basically all say the same thing – if you have a complaint, you agree to have it heard by a private arbiter, not in a court of law. You will literally be forced into arbitration.
The “fine print” in these contracts shields corporations from class actions. Basically, if you want to fight for your rights, you’ll have to do so in front of a person who, more than likely, has close ties to the very company you are fighting. In the overwhelming majority of these cases, the plaintiff either loses the case or decides to drop the matter because he or she knows there is simply no chance to win.
“I Can’t Believe this is America”
The horror stories uncovered by the Times should make your blood boil. We’re not just talking about people who may have been unfairly charged $20 by their cell phone provider, or someone who had to deal with ruined credit because of an erroneous late payment fee. As bad as those examples are, reporters found ones that are far worse.
For instance, the family of a woman who died in a Pennsylvania nursing home due to negligence had to go to forced arbitration rather than have the case heard in a court. An Alabama woman hurt in a car accident due to her vehicle’s faulty brakes had to do the same thing, as did the parents of an infant who suffered severe deformities due to the negligence of an obstetrician.
Many people have even been barred from taking legal action against their employers for discrimination and unfair labor practices – all because they had to sign a forced arbitration clause in order to be able to get a job.
One woman quoted in the article summed up the incredible unfairness of forced arbitration in 11 words. She was involved in an arbitration case against a school chain that, according to the article, left her nearly bankrupt. The arbitrator ruled against her, and the more than 300-page dissertation explaining the decision included ridiculous references to Botox, singing lessons and even Jell-O.
The woman said, “It was a kangaroo court. I can’t believe this is America.”
Time to End the Madness
We cannot urge you strongly enough to read the Times series, (follow these links to Part I, Part II and Part III) because we simply do not have the room here to detail the incredible job their reporters did in exposing forced arbitration. Once you do, hopefully you will be spurred into action.
Talk to your Congressional representative. Take to social media to tell others what you’ve read. Shout it from the nearest rooftop if you have to. Contribute to the momentum and tell people why the scourge of forced arbitration needs to be eliminated forever. It’s simply not what America should be about.