The American Association for Justice posted a joke this morning on their Facebook page for Talk Like a Pirate Day:
Why won’t Pirate Bob buy a cellphone? Because of the forced arrrrbitration clauses buried in the fine print of cellphone contracts!
In reality, forced arbitration isn’t much of a joke. These clauses are hidden in the fine print of contracts that consumers and employees are forced to sign in order to receive services or be hired.
Earlier this year, General Mills added in their fine print that even liking their Facebook page or purchasing a box of Cheerios could remove you of your rights. Fortunately, public outcry when the news leaked led the company to reverse course.
What is forced arbitration?
Forced arbitration (different from mandatory arbitration) is when a consumer or employee by contract cannot take their grievances to court. Instead, they have to go to a private arbitration designed by the corporation with which they have a dispute. The arbitrators are hired by the corporation, often specifically chosen because they rule in favor of the company. If they know they have the opportunity to be hired again, this gives a perverse incentive to continue to rule in their favor.
What does this mean?
Consumers and employees have to waive their right to go to court, but the corporation can still sue. That’s a little one-sided. The consumers and employees also have to pay for the arbitrator, filing fees, and more – which can sometimes include airfare and hotels to visit the arbitrator. Corporations in forced arbitration can choose whatever location they want, no matter the hassle for the consumer, which can often deter the consumer from even bothering to pursue this course – especially when it would cost the consumer more in effort or money than the case would be worth.
Forced arbitration curtails the ability of the individual to present certain evidence in their case and often to even obtain it in the first place. The records and proceedings are confidential and sealed, which means that public safety or employment concerns that would affect many others don’t have the ability to be aired. Instead, the corporation has the ability to quiet the individual without addressing the issue at hand.
And most notably: After all of these difficulties, even if an individual makes it to their session and has their case heard, it is nearly impossible to appeal an arbitrator’s decision to a higher authority.
What do we do to help?
Talk to your Congresspersons about forced arbitration. Demand that we eliminate forced arbitration in employment, consumer, civil rights, and anti-trust cases; ensure that the decision to arbitrate is truly voluntary; and restore fundamental rights created by state and federal laws that are currently at risk of being wiped out by forced arbitration. (Source: Take Justice Back)