Fighting bad deals in the fine print

justice

Like many folks, I often feel a twinge of guilt for not reading all the fine print when signing  contracts for credit cards and other services. I feel like there’s something there I should know (and worry) about, and if I could figure out exactly what it is, then I might be able to fight back if it turned out I signed a bad deal. But, of course, I start to read, my eyes glaze over, and … well, I never figure out what that worrisome item is.

Today, we need Congress to overturn one of the most unfair items in contracts like these: binding arbitration agreements. Sign one, and you sign away your right to take the company to court. They’re tucked into many contracts for numerous services and employment, and there’s little a consumer can do to combat them directly.

Sound too boring to bother with? Ask Debbie Dantz, a former Applebee’s employee. Ian Millhiser writes of her plight in the Huffington Post. Dantz endured appallingly cruel sexual harrassment at work. Her complaints to management were ignored, and she eventually was presented with a binding arbitration agreement to sign. She knew that if she signed, she would no longer have the right to take Applebee’s to court if they broke the law, so she refused. She was told that if she didn’t sign, she would be paid nothing but tips (a violation of federal minimum wage laws). But she needed the job so much, she didn’t quit.

Good thing she held on to her right to go to court, right? Millhiser writes:

 

After nearly three years of harassment, abuse and long hours for little or no pay, Dantz finally decided that she’d had enough. She filed suit against her employer–and the court kicked her to the curb. Even though Dantz refused to sign the binding arbitration agreement, the court said that merely by continuing to work for Applebees, she was bound by its terms. Debbie Dantz’ employer illegally abused her for almost three years, and Dantz was powerless to hold it accountable.

She refused to sign the agreement, but her right to go to court was still taken away. The corporate bias to this law is unbelievable.

This week, the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 was introduced to Congress. By passing it, Congress could stop companies from blocking people like Dantz’s access to their right to a day in court.

Read Public Citizen’s David Arkush’s statement on the Arbitration Fairness Act, and please encourage your Congress members to support this legislation.

Want to learn more?  Click here to read Public Citizen’s full report on binding arbitration.

Flickr photo by mindgutter