We see it almost every day, the fine print. Our eyes scan over the tiny font. We are intimidated. The only thing that jumps out at us, often with the help of whoever is pushing the paperwork, is the “Sign here: X_________.” Corporations know most of us don’t have the time (or the law degree) to take in all their legalese and so we’ve begun to resign ourselves to the “Sign here X_________ culture.” In an ideal world, we would all refuse, take off work and go to the library or to a free legal clinic and spend a day or more trying to wrap our heads around whatever we are signing. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and so with a sigh we sign, and we sign, and we sign.
Ten years ago, Vincent and Liza Concepcion signed here X_________ and fell into a fine print trap. The “free” phone they
thought they were getting for signing up with AT&T Mobility turned out to cost $30.22. They were upset and tried to act– only to find out that according to the fine print– they couldn’t. AT&T had slid in a class action arbitration clause. Translation: legalese for fine print that says by signing here X_______ you’re agreeing to not band together with others to take us to court. Sound fishy? It is.
Public Citizen attorney Deepak Gupta represented the Concepcions in a high-profile case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision that was handed down was a disappointment to Gupta and to anyone who has ever felt they’ve been nickled or dimed by a corporation. The New York Times editorial board wrote of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of AT&T:
These are major setbacks for individuals who may not have the resources to challenge big companies in court or through arbitration.
Gupta participated in a press conference today with U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who have introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act, which would be Congress’ way of undoing the damage done by the Supreme Court. Gupta explained,
Most of us don’t know about forced arbitration clauses, but we’re confronted by them every day. Now, whenever you sign a contract to get a cellphone, open a bank account or take a job, you may be giving up the right to hold companies accountable for illegal practices.
In the real world, what are the chances of getting a lawyer to represent you as an individual in the Supreme Court over $33.22 cents? It wouldn’t be worth your time and resources or any lawyer’s time and resources, and that’s what corporations are banking on. So, what is $33.22 cents here, another $10 dollars there– the answer is for the corporation who is getting it, it’s millions in illicit gains. The Supreme Court has essentially outlined and incentivized a way for corporate America to kill us all softly by the fine print.
So the question is– now what? Who do we turn to protect us now? Enter Franken, Blumenthal and Johnson. At the press conference, Sen. Al Franken said of the bill,
“Workers and consumers should never be forced to give up their rights to get hired for a job, or to get a cell phone. I’ve introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act to ensure that workers and consumers have the right to choose arbitration over litigation, instead of being forced into it by corporations.”