Powerful and straightforward piece in Slate reveals how Americans have had their consumer and employee rights stripped away from them
Since their inception, class action lawsuits have provided consumers with a mechanism to challenge and deter large corporations from breaking the law. Over the last decade, however, hundreds of millions of Americans have seen themselves legally prohibited from bringing or joining such lawsuits as the imposition of forced arbitration has skyrocketed to restrict their rights. Forced arbitration provisions drastically limit the rights of consumers and employees. As Slate observes, this onetime major recourse for individuals facing illegal behavior by giant corporations is reeling in the wake of a Supreme Court “determined to stamp them out.”
Forced arbitration clauses are hidden in the fine print of the majority of contracts that consumers and workers must sign in order to receive services or get hired. These clauses require that individuals surrender their fundamental constitutional rights to a trial by jury – often without realizing they’ve done so—and in the event of discovering wrongdoing by the corporation, those consumers and employees face the harsh reality of having to seek justice through a private arbitration system designed and funded by the very corporation against which they bring their claims.
This has had a devastating impact on the rights of American workers and consumers nationwide by allowing for the pervasive suppression of claims against corporations specifically when those individuals have been cheated or stolen from by corporate malfeasance and crime.
As Slate notes, in 1992 only 2 percent of private sector nonunion employees were subject to arbitration clauses, but by 2018 that number had risen to 55 percent, in agreements controlling almost 60 million workers. Experts estimate that by 2024, this number of Americans precluded from the right to a fair jury trial will reach over 80 percent. Amazon, American Express, AT&T, Best Buy, Citigroup, Comcast, Ford, General Electric, Home Depot, Verizon and 81 other Fortune 100 companies all impose forced arbitration agreements on their consumers.
“It’s no secret why employers and corporations love arbitration,” says Slate. “The process is a raw deal for the little guy. The arbitrators who preside over these cases may not be bound by substantive law, meaning victims can’t get the damages they’d get in actual court. Nor are arbitrators constrained by the procedural safeguards of the judicial system…. Class actions at least give everyday Americans a fighting chance at justice when big business has screwed them over.”