Learn more about our policy experts.

Media Contacts

Angela Bradbery, Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7741
c. (202) 503-6768
abradbery@citizen.org, Twitter

Barbara Holzer, Broadcast Manager
w. (202) 588-7716

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779

David Rosen, Press Officer, Regulatory Affairs
w. (202) 588-7742

Symone Sanders, Communications Officer, Global Trade Watch division
w. (202) 454-5108

Other Important Links

Press Release Database
Citizen Vox blog
Texas Vox blog
Consumer Law and Policy blog
Energy Vox blog
Eyes on Trade blog

Follow us on Twitter


April 21, 2014

It’s Not Just General Mills: Dozens of Major Companies Use Unfair Fine Print to Deny People Their Legal Rights

Statement of Christine Hines, Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel, Public Citizen

Facing a public uproar that showed no sign of abating, General Mills dropped the unfair fine print it posted online that would deprive customers who used its website of the right to sue to settle a dispute.

General Mills had added a forced arbitration clause and a ban on class actions to its “legal terms” on its website for the same purpose as most other corporations – unilaterally preventing its customers from filing lawsuits against it and escaping responsibility for causing injury.

So we can strike one off the list. But General Mills isn’t the only company to dupe its customers into “agreeing” to take any dispute to an arbitrator, rather than court.

Public Citizen’s Forced Arbitration Rogues Gallery catalogues some of the many corporations that use fine-print contracts to deprive consumers or employees, of their right to sue, forcing people instead to resolve disputes in individual, secret arbitration.

These companies include big-name corporations like: Verizon, AT&T, T Mobile, Starbucks, Discover, Comcast, Gold’s Gym, Sprint, Patagonia, Netflix, Amazon.com, Hulu, Dropbox, Wells Fargo, BB&T, PNC Bank, American Express, Dell, Sony, Lennar, KB Home, PayPal, Match.com, eBay, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s, Orkin, CarMax and Papa John’s.

Forced arbitration, which denies the people their right to sue when harmed, is spreading like a poison through industries that provide products and services to consumers, and is increasingly being added to corporate contracts with employees.

The only way we can combat this is if We, the People, speak up. Lesson No. 1 from the General Mills fiasco for corporate lawyers and public relations spokespersons: Americans want to retain their legal rights, thank you very much.

When people have a chance to protest, companies are forced to reverse their policies.

As recently as last December, The New York Times uncovered the details of an arbitration clause in Hyundai’s owner manuals directing that consumers’ warranty disputes with the auto manufacturer be resolved in arbitration instead of court. Just hours after the article was posted, Hyundai announced that it would cancel its arbitration clause.

Last year, brokerage firm Charles Schwab was caught overstepping the bounds. The investor firm, which had long included an arbitration clause in its contracts with customers, decided that it would go even further by prohibiting its customers from participating in class actions against it.

The uproar included a Public Citizen petition, congressional reaction and calls for action to the federal oversight agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), demanding that the agency ban arbitration clauses in brokerage firm and investment advisor contracts with their customers. Soon after, Charles Schwab relented. While it did not remove the arbitration clause from its customers’ contracts, it eliminated the class-action ban, at least for now.

Many other corporations have taken away our right to sue. The General Mills example shows that when consumers speak out to preserve their rights, individual companies may back down. But we can’t fight each of the tens of thousands of arbitration clauses individually, so we also need to fight to get our rights back by demanding an outright ban on these clauses in consumer contracts.

People should tell Congress, the SEC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau how they feel about corporations taking away their rights via unfair fine print.


Copyright © 2015 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.


To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.