Poll finds American voters oppose forced arbitration in contracts

“Americans are sick and tired of a system that so strongly favors big corporations over consumers and … robs them of their constitutional right to their day in court,” Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said in a statement concerning the proposed Arbitration Fairness Act. The act seeks to preserve our constitutionally guaranteed right to a jury trial should we ever need to settle a grievance in court with a company or an employer.

These days, according to the American Association for Justice, “just by taking a job or buying a product or service, consumers and employees are forced to give up their right to take their case to court if they are harmed by a corporation.”

Why does this happen? Because too often, corporations slip mandatory binding arbitration clauses into the fine print of consumer and employment contracts. According to the AAJ, forced arbitration clauses are “hidden in the fine print of everything from cell phone, home, credit card, and retirement accounts of agreement to employment and nursing home contracts.”

Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners, said that forced arbitration clauses amount to “another example of corporations taking advantage of ordinary Americans.” Lake’s firm, which conducted a survey of voters, found that the majority of American voters, be they Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, strongly opposed the idea of forced arbitration clauses. “The public supports the Arbitration Fairness Act because equal justice under the law is a core American value,” Lake said.

The poll’s results were presented at a press conference organized by the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition in Washington D.C. The findings indicated that most Americans feel that forced arbitration clauses are un-American:

  • Six in 10 likely voters support the Arbitration Fairness Act – including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents;
  • 59 percent of likely voters oppose the use of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment and consumer contracts;
  • Two-thirds of respondents cannot remember ever reading about a forced arbitration provision buried in the fine print of employment terms or agreement for goods and services; and,
  • More than 70 percent of respondents believe they could take their employer or a corporation to court in the event of a dispute, unaware they could be subjected to mandatory binding arbitration.

“The Arbitration Fairness Act does not seek to eliminate arbitration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution agreed to voluntarily after a dispute arises,” the supporting groups wrote last month in a collective letter to Congress. “Its sole aim is to end the unscrupulous business practice of forcing consumers and employees into biased arbitrations by binding them long before any disputes arise.”

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who introduced the Fair Arbitration Act to the House, said that the right of a trial jury has been “gradually ceded by citizens every day as they purchase a new cell phone, buy a home, place a loved one in a nursing home, or accept a new job. Once used as a tool for businesses to solve their disputes, arbitration agreements have found their way into employment, consumer, franchise and medical contracts.”

According to the AAJ, people who have been hurt by forced arbitration will testify before Congress as part of the Fair Arbitration hearings. One of those scheduled speakers is David Kurt of Wisconsin, whose father died in a nursing home because of the staff’s extreme neglect. Kurth attempted to hold the facility that abused his father legally accountable, but a judge ruled the case would not be heard in court because a family member had signed a contract with a forced arbitration clause.