This spring, the Supreme Court decided the case of AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion. While the name may not ring bells for many people, the decision had a wide ranging effect on nearly everyone in the country. The ruling confirmed that businesses can require their customers by way of arbitration (meaning that consumers have no right to a trial, let alone a trial heard by a jury) and could simultaneously ban class action arbitrations (where groups of consumers join together to fight against a large company). The case, AT&T vs. Concepcion, involved a cell phone contract, but impacts the types of contracts that consumers sign every day in order to receive common products and services.
On May 12, 2011, Senator Al Franken, along with twelve (12) co-sponsors, introduced legislation that offers some potentially good news for consumers. The proposed Arbitration Fairness Act of 2011 would amend the current Arbitration Fairness Act and overturn the Supreme Court’s holding in the AT&T Mobility case by banning mandatory pre-dispute arbitration clauses in employment, consumer and civil rights cases. The Bill offers protection for consumers who often don’t even realize that they’ve signed their rights away by entering into these seemingly simple contracts. If this legislation passes, everyday citizens will be able to have their grievances heard in the proper forum – a court room, before a Judge and/or jury. Their rights to an appeal would also be protected.
Perhaps the only positive effect that has come from the surprising decision in AT&T Mobility is that consumers are now becoming aware of the tremendous power that businesses have and learning more about their legal rights when there have a dispute. I hope that the public will take the time to contact their Senators and Representatives to encourage them to support the new Arbitration Fairness Act. Thirteen senators and nearly seventy state representatives have indicated their support for the Bill.
To find and contact your Senator to elicit their support for the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2011 visit http://www.contactingthecongress.org/.