Saturday, August 30, 2008

AT&T's Attempt to Take Away Consumer's Rights Denied

Court says AT&T can't force arbitration

Michael McKee, of East Wenatchee, filed a class-action suit against AT&T, alleging it wrongly charged him and others for city utility surcharges and usurious late fees. McKee didn't think it was fair that he got charged a city-utility fee even though he lived outside city limits. Though the charges were small -- no more than $2 in any given month -- he noted that it added up after many years and many customers.

So McKee took his case to court. Meanwhile, AT&T argued that the dispute should be settled through arbitration, noting that McKee agreed to mandatory arbitration when he signed up for service in 2002. Such arbitration clauses are ubiquitous, and often consumers must agree to them as a condition of accepting a credit card, a cell phone or other services.

A Chelan County Superior Court found the dispute-resolution provision of AT&T's Consumer Services Agreement "unconscionable" and denied AT&T's motion to compel arbitration. AT&T appealed. On Thursday, in an unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling. Justice Tom Chambers concludes:

A&T's Consumer Services Agreement is substantively unconscionable and therefore unenforceable to the extent that it purports to waive the right to class actions, require confidentiality, shorten the Washington Consumer Protection Act statute of limitations, and limit availability of attorney fees.

We emphasize that these provisions have nothing to do with arbitration. Arbitrators supervise class actions, conduct open hearings, apply appropriate statutes of limitations, and award compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees, where appropriate. Courts will not be easily deceived by attempts to unilaterally strip away consumer protections and remedies by efforts to cloak the waiver of important rights under an arbitration clause.

via: AT&T Busted For Fine Print Trickery

Many companies have gotten more aggressive about trying to claim rights that don't exist in documents they force on customers. Just because a company says something does not make it so. Often states (like in this case) do not allow companies to operate and make wild claims. You can't sell unsafe products and just say, by walking into our store you acknowledge that anything you sell we take no responsibility for, you should test everything for suitability and safety, they may or may not comply with local laws on safe electrical equipment, the food was not cared for as required by law...

Related: iPhone + AT&T = Yikes - Bad Customer Service Examples :-( - Incredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card - Why is Customer Service So Bad?

No comments: