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AT&T Still Using Binding Arbitration In Fine Print
Though language hasn't really changed since 2001...
by Karl Bode 03:23PM Monday Aug 10 2009
Slashdot readers seem surprised to learn that AT&T buries some fine print in your terms of service that prohibit your ability to participate in class action lawsuits. Instead, AT&T believes that your agreement to terms indicates that you will participate in binding arbitration, a system companies prefer because the firms they hire to do this service rule in the corporations' favor 95% of the time or more. Slashdotters seem to think AT&T only just included this language, but we confirmed with AT&T The language has been in place (in some form) since 2001. What's surprising is that the language remains at all -- given the number of Judges who've told AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Comcast that they can't erode consumer rights via fine print.

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screavic4
Premium
join:2006-08-11
Paron, AR
kudos:1

Suprised?

Anyone suprised? Alot of other companies do this too...
jfd15

join:2008-01-07
West Sacramento, CA

Re: Suprised?

all i know about AT+T is i signed up for their DSL service, wanted to cancel after 6 months, had 2 letters from them saying i was on month to month service- then when i did finally call to cancel they said the letters were irrelevant and that they would charge me $200 early termination fee...and thats what they did...needless to say i will never buy/sign up for anything from them ever again...

SLD
Premium
join:2002-04-17
San Francisco, CA

Re: Suprised?

Did you pay? Maybe a small claims action would have been appropriate?
jfd15

join:2008-01-07
West Sacramento, CA

Re: Suprised?

said by SLD:

Did you pay? Maybe a small claims action would have been appropriate?
no didnt pay- they dinged my credit...thing is i would have paid if i didnt have those 2 letters...just wasnt too impressed with their CSR's attitude- i was polite but they basically said go to hell...
MyDogHsFleas
Premium
join:2007-08-15
Austin, TX
kudos:5
Can you post the letters? Something's fishy here.
jfd15

join:2008-01-07
West Sacramento, CA

1 edit

Re: Suprised?

said by MyDogHsFleas:

Can you post the letters? Something's fishy here.
i dont have the letters anymore - this was 3 years ago for their residential DSL(~$20 or $25/month)....i think i signed up thru AOL and then they turned me over to AT+T for the actual monthly billing(the DSL part of the bill- i think i was paying $5-$10/mo for AOL until i figured out i didnt need to)....its the truth....(ive moved twice since then, dont hang on to much when i do)
Mr Matt

join:2008-01-29
Eustis, FL
kudos:1
Reviews:
·Millenicom
·Embarq Now Centu..
·Comcast
·CenturyLink

Just another hurdle!

Such language is inserted by the big corporation legal weasels, in order to add another hurdle for the customer to jump over in order to file a lawsuit. The plaintiff's lawyer first has to fight the issue of binding arbitration before the legal system can address the customers complaint. This technique is used by scumbag corporate lawyers in order to raise the cost to prosecute a case. Unless the Judge throws out the binding arbitration clause the customer winds up sucking wind.

swilliams

join:1999-09-07
Littleton, CO

My very first iPhone bill

Click for full size
This is the email I got from AT&T announcing my first bill was ready.

Nice IMPORTANT REMINDER huh? Very warm and fuzzy 'welcome to AT&T'.

Assholes.
--
You can't walk a straight line girl... if you're wearin crooked shoes
gorehound

join:2009-06-19
Portland, ME

Re: My very first iPhone bill

I would stay away from this company and never give them any business.

swilliams

join:1999-09-07
Littleton, CO

Re: My very first iPhone bill

said by gorehound:

I would stay away from this company and never give them any business.
I wanted the phone and am crossing my fingers that the service will be acceptable enough until I have other options down the road. If not, there's always the ETF.
--
You can't walk a straight line girl... if you're wearin crooked shoes

fireflier
Coffee. . .Need Coffee
Premium
join:2001-05-25
Limbo

They're just lowering the bar. . .

Eventually, they'll be the defendant in a class-action suit for restricting the rights of their customers and forcing them into binding arbitration as opposed to the normally available legal channels.

If several judges have already pointed out they can't erode consumer rights via fine print, there's already a precedent they've done so by the fact that they keep doing it.

I may be wrong, but I can't imagine it would take a good attorney very long to blow a lot of large holes right through that part of the contract.
--
Tradition: Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid. --despair.com

cdru
Go Colts
Premium,MVM
join:2003-05-14
Fort Wayne, IN
kudos:7

Re: They're just lowering the bar. . .

said by fireflier:

If several judges have already pointed out they can't erode consumer rights via fine print, there's already a precedent they've done so by the fact that they keep doing it.
There has been precidents set both ways according to this list discussion post from the /. article. Laws vary from state to state and apparently nothing has been set at the federal level, so it will remain that way for the time being.

I may be wrong, but I can't imagine it would take a good attorney very long to blow a lot of large holes right through that part of the contract.
You'd probably be wrong. If it was an easy (aka cheap) process it would have been done already. I'm not saying that it can't or won't be done, only that it's harder then you would expect. Any challenge to it would come at a sizable cost, only to turn around and potentially having even a greater cost when it goes to trial if you succeeded.

runnoft
Premium
join:2003-10-14
Nags Head, NC
kudos:1

1 recommendation

AT&T Binding Arbitration

Yeah, if you have a good case, just ignore the binding arbitration clause and sue them anyway in small claims court. They'll try to get it dismissed on the grounds that your customer service agreement provides for binding arbitration, but find a case to cite that backs up your claim to the judge that binding arbitration is something imposed by some big companies on their customers that has no legal standing, because it's totally one-sided. Many judges have ruled that way, as the article says. Do not enter into binding arbitration with one of these companies; it's not in your interest, and you will almost certainly lose. And class action suits just get money for attorneys, so don't go that route, either. Sue them in small claims court if you're sure you can prove your case.

jmn1207
Premium
join:2000-07-19
Ashburn, VA
kudos:1

Re: AT&T Binding Arbitration

I believe that AT&T already allows for small-claims court or arbitration. Their wording excludes general jurisdiction. This means a maximum of $5000 and no class-action suits.
flyingjoey

join:2005-11-07
Jersey City, NJ

Time to split up MaBell AGAIN!

AT&T is consistently trying the patience of the public, authorities and everyone in general.

1. The exclusivity agreements with the cell phones (hint hint iPhone)
2. Arbitration
3. Crippling competingproducts

There is only 1 ready for AT&T. The FCC needs to split them up again. This time around into 20 little companies, not 7 like they did the first time around.
MyDogHsFleas
Premium
join:2007-08-15
Austin, TX
kudos:5

What should the percentage be, if not 95%?

What in your mind would be a fair percentage?

How would you justify this?

How do you know 95% isn't "fair"?

By the way the linked "95%" story is unrelated to AT&T arbitration.
ross7

join:2000-08-16

Re: What should the percentage be, if not 95%?

said by MyDogHsFleas:

What in your mind would be a fair percentage?

How would you justify this?

How do you know 95% isn't "fair"?

By the way the linked "95%" story is unrelated to AT&T arbitration.
Like most statistics, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The referenced article doesn't judge whether an outcome of arbitration is "fair", or not "fair". What is obvious, and stated, is the outcome goes against the consumer, and in favor of businesses, 95% of the time (in California cases, specifically):

"The report focuses on the National Arbitration Forum (NAF), the go-to arbitration forum for the credit card industry and a major player in the California arbitration business*. Between Jan. 1, 2003, and March 31, 2007, arbitrators working for the Minneapolis-based NAF ruled for businesses in 95 percent of the California cases examined. In fact, 90 percent of the NAF cases were handled by just 28 arbitrators, who awarded businesses $185 million. One arbitrator handled 68 cases in a single day – an average of one every seven minutes, assuming an eight-hour day – and ruled for the business in every case, awarding 100 percent of the money requested." *(emphasis added)

It is also irrelevant as to what percentage of California cases involve AT&T.

The concern is not what would be considered a "fair" percentage, but, rather, whether arbitration is an equitable process at all. The fact is that arbitration is stacked against the consumer, and in favor of business, especially corporate businesses, as Public Citizen's study shows.
MyDogHsFleas
Premium
join:2007-08-15
Austin, TX
kudos:5

Re: What should the percentage be, if not 95%?

said by ross7:

said by MyDogHsFleas:

What in your mind would be a fair percentage?

How would you justify this?

How do you know 95% isn't "fair"?

By the way the linked "95%" story is unrelated to AT&T arbitration.
Like most statistics, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The referenced article doesn't judge whether an outcome of arbitration is "fair", or not "fair". What is obvious, and stated, is the outcome goes against the consumer, and in favor of businesses, 95% of the time (in California cases, specifically):

"The report focuses on the National Arbitration Forum (NAF), the go-to arbitration forum for the credit card industry and a major player in the California arbitration business*. Between Jan. 1, 2003, and March 31, 2007, arbitrators working for the Minneapolis-based NAF ruled for businesses in 95 percent of the California cases examined. In fact, 90 percent of the NAF cases were handled by just 28 arbitrators, who awarded businesses $185 million. One arbitrator handled 68 cases in a single day – an average of one every seven minutes, assuming an eight-hour day – and ruled for the business in every case, awarding 100 percent of the money requested." *(emphasis added)

It is also irrelevant as to what percentage of California cases involve AT&T.

The concern is not what would be considered a "fair" percentage, but, rather, whether arbitration is an equitable process at all. The fact is that arbitration is stacked against the consumer, and in favor of business, especially corporate businesses, as Public Citizen's study shows.
What would the percentage have to be for you to consider the arbitration not to be "stacked against the consumer"?

How do you justify that number?

How do you know that 95% of the cases should not have been decided against the consumer?

jhboricua
ExMod 2000-01
join:2000-06-06
Minneapolis, MN

1 edit

Re: What should the percentage be, if not 95%?

said by MyDogHsFleas:

What would the percentage have to be for you to consider the arbitration not to be "stacked against the consumer"?
0%. The mere fact that big corps want to erode consumer rights by trying to impose binding arbitration by a company they PAID says enough.

said by MyDogHsFleas:

How do you justify that number?
How do you justify 95% in favor of the business?

said by MyDogHsFleas:

How do you know that 95% of the cases should not have been decided against the consumer?
So you're saying the reviewer that averaged 7 minutes a case was being objective? Common sense dictates otherwise.

The fact that the Minneapolis NAF unit agreed to give up that part of their business rather than let the AG investigate them should tell you enough.
--
"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe." - Albert Einstein
Jose A. Hernandez * System Admin * MPLS, Minnesota, USA *
MyDogHsFleas
Premium
join:2007-08-15
Austin, TX
kudos:5

Re: What should the percentage be, if not 95%?

said by jhboricua:

said by MyDogHsFleas:

What would the percentage have to be for you to consider the arbitration not to be "stacked against the consumer"?
0%. The mere fact that big corps want to erode consumer rights by trying to impose binding arbitration by a company they PAID says enough.

Wow. Just wow.

said by MyDogHsFleas:

How do you justify that number?
How do you justify 95% in favor of the business?

I don't have to. I was commenting on a supposed "news report" that ASSUMED that 95% was biased. My simple question is: how do you justify that? Still no answer.

said by MyDogHsFleas:

How do you know that 95% of the cases should not have been decided against the consumer?
So you're saying the reviewer that averaged 7 minutes a case was being objective? Common sense dictates otherwise. The fact that the Minneapolis NAF unit agreed to give up that part of their business rather than let the AG investigate them should tell you enough.
You really don't know. I suspect the average case goes like this:

Business: Here's our billing and payment records. Here's what the customer agreed to (signed and dated). They owe us $XXX according to our records.

Consumer: They are wrong. (No data to back it up.)

How hard is that to decide?

jhboricua
ExMod 2000-01
join:2000-06-06
Minneapolis, MN

2 edits

Re: What should the percentage be, if not 95%?

said by MyDogHsFleas:

You really don't know. I suspect the average case goes like this:

Business: Here's our billing and payment records. Here's what the customer agreed to (signed and dated). They owe us $XXX according to our records.

Consumer: They are wrong. (No data to back it up.)

How hard is that to decide?
You don't know either, but you must be pretty naive or just a shill to believe that a 95% judgement award to the company paying the arbitrator is fair.

That's part of the problem with the system too. There was no way to verify the fairness of the process by the regular Joe since the system is designed to prevent exactly this.

But again, the fact that the Minneapolis NAF unit decided to give up such lucrative business as soon as the Minnesota AG started requesting documentation for their investigation speak volumes about the so called 'fairness' of their process. As one columnist put it, is the equivalent of McDonalds agreeing to stop selling burgers.

It took 3 days from the moment the AG filed suit against the Minneapolis NAF unit to reach a settlement.
--
"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe." - Albert Einstein
Jose A. Hernandez * System Admin * MPLS, Minnesota, USA *
moonpuppy

join:2000-08-21
Glen Burnie, MD
said by MyDogHsFleas:

You really don't know. I suspect the average case goes like this:

Business: Here's our billing and payment records. Here's what the customer agreed to (signed and dated). They owe us $XXX according to our records.

Consumer: They are wrong. (No data to back it up.)

How hard is that to decide?
And I suspect this is the conversation between a corporation and the arbitration service they hire.

Corporation: "We are going to hire you as our arbitration service with a guaranteed amount of business."

Arbitration service: "Great!"

Corporation: "Just one thing, for us to keep you as a service, you need to decide at least 95% of the cases in our favor."

Arbitration service: "No problem."

Arbitration is nothing more than paid judges and when one side pays for it, their neutrality has to be questionable.
ross7

join:2000-08-16

1 edit
said by MyDogHsFleas:

What would the percentage have to be for you to consider the arbitration not to be "stacked against the consumer"?

How do you justify that number?

How do you know that 95% of the cases should not have been decided against the consumer?
It is irrelevant. I don't care how many cases should have been decided in favor of the customers, or the businesses. The facts are 95% of cases were decided against the customer. It is preposterous to maintain that farcical outcome is statistically probable if the process were equitable. Ergo, some factor is corrupting the process. If the outcome percentage were reversed, how many unilateral forced binding arbitration clauses do you think you would see in service agreements? I'm guessing ZERO!

Sometimes things are as OBVIOUS as they seem.

KrK
Heavy Artillery For The Little Guy
Premium
join:2000-01-17
Tulsa, OK
You could also flip this around. The fact they are so hot and heavy to limit you to binding arbitration is they know they can reduce their expenses through binding arbitration because the consumer will almost always lose, whereas in Court, more often Justice will be done.
--
"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." -- Benito Mussolini
MyDogHsFleas
Premium
join:2007-08-15
Austin, TX
kudos:5

Re: What should the percentage be, if not 95%?

said by KrK:

You could also flip this around. The fact they are so hot and heavy to limit you to binding arbitration is they know they can reduce their expenses through binding arbitration because the consumer will almost always lose, whereas in Court, more often Justice will be done.
I think it's more that the cost of going through arbitration is much, much less than the cost of going to court. I don't think it has much to do with win/loss percentages. Basically, if you're a business and you have to go to court to deal with an individual consumer, you've already lost.

I also think you're naive about Justice with a capital J. Do you really think a court is a place where you get justice?

By the way, the 95% figure cited in the original news item has nothing to do with AT&T. No one knows what the win/loss stats are on AT&T arbitrations.

KrK
Heavy Artillery For The Little Guy
Premium
join:2000-01-17
Tulsa, OK

Re: What should the percentage be, if not 95%?

said by MyDogHsFleas:

I think it's more that the cost of going through arbitration is much, much less than the cost of going to court.
That's a given... however if you can control the process to force consumers with grievances to play the game your way it pays off. Consumers can win big when a company gets hit with punitive damages to punish them for wrongdoing. That isn't going to happen in binding arbitration.

I also think you're naive about Justice with a capital J. Do you really think a court is a place where you get justice?
No, I'm not. I know that Courts and "Justice" often have little to do with each other... but I'm POSITIVE that your chances of "Justice" being done in binding arbitration are infinitesimally smaller. If you have to play the game, why play under their rigged rules.
By the way, the 95% figure cited in the original news item has nothing to do with AT&T. No one knows what the win/loss stats are on AT&T arbitrations.
Right. It's just in general. However AT&T is Gung-Ho for arbitration, so It's safe to assume their wining percentages are right in line.
--
"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." -- Benito Mussolini
mlundin

join:2001-03-27
Lawrence, KS

I think...

That if I ever have a problem with a company that forces me to use binding arbitration, I'll use it. Then, when I lose, I'll sue the "independent arbitrator" into the ground for not being independent and original company in question for not adhering to the terms of the agreement.
ross7

join:2000-08-16

Re: I think...

said by mlundin:

That if I ever have a problem with a company that forces me to use binding arbitration, I'll use it. Then, when I lose, I'll sue the "independent arbitrator" into the ground for not being independent and original company in question for not adhering to the terms of the agreement.
Sorry, but you will find that next to impossible. Arbitration awards are rarely reviewable. Usually, the award is simply a statement of the decision rendered, and does not disclose the reasoning, legal or otherwise, used in rendering the decision. That makes it nearly impossible to attack the award/judgment on legal grounds, and there are no other causes of action applicable. You have agreed that the chosen arbitrators are impartial by accepting them to hear the issue(s) at arbitration. Finding a court that would even consider reviewing an arbitration award just won't happen.

runnoft
Premium
join:2003-10-14
Nags Head, NC
kudos:1
ross is right. Very bad idea. You will lose all appeals in court because in entering binding arbitration you will agree to forgo them, and could also be held responsible for paying AT&T's and the binding arbitrator's legal costs in defending your follow-up lawsuit.

Do NOT agree to binding arbitration.

obeythelaw
Premium
join:2003-04-16
Bayonne, NJ
Reviews:
·Verizon FiOS

Am I missing something?

Are these people claiming that they don't like arbitration because they have legitimate problems or errors with billing, etc. but ATT (in this case, anyway), won't listen to them and so they have to go to arbitration and when they have all of their evidence they still lose in arbitration before a panel of arbitratators? Or are these people just miffed that they have to pay an ETF or something and want to sue ATT for it?
MyDogHsFleas
Premium
join:2007-08-15
Austin, TX
kudos:5

Re: Am I missing something?

Exactly the right question.

You can't just arbitrarily declare that because most arbitration cases are decided for the business, that arbitration is "unfair" or "stacked". You have to actually look at the cases.

I strongly suspect that in most cases it's the consumer who's wrong. In my experience, if the business has actually made a mistake, and you have documentation, they own up to it and make it good. I suspect in a lot of these cases it's just the consumer stubbornly insisting they are right, even though they're not.

••••••

screwATT

@teksavvy.com

How to SUE AT&T

get a mentally challenged person to sign up.
Then when issue arrises, claim htey had not capacity to read or understand fine print. SUE them on behalf of said client
HECK why not prempt it and just sue that there terms in 1st place are ergrarious to proper business, and ethical behaviour, and effectiverly are slandering you by saying you can't be trusted, you can't defend yourself ( need arbitrator ) and that you have no right to class action.