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Monday, December 8, 2014

Retailer tries to hold customer’s money hostage to forced arbitration

By Trevor Boeckmann
AFJ Dorot Fellow
As we detail in our short documentary Lost in the Fine Print, forced arbitration clauses have become omnipresent in American society.  They’re used by companies to prevent consumers from having the chance to stand up for their rights in court when they’re harmed.  Yet most of these clauses are buried deep in the fine print of contracts and terms of service.
Now Walmart, already a corporate bad actor in so many ways, has taken this strategy to a whole new level.  They found a way to hold a customer’s money hostage until she agreed to forced arbitration.
KTRK-TV in Houston reports thaWalmart_Store_Signt on Black Friday, local shopper Maria Selva tried to buy a new TV at the big-box retailer. Walmart had sold out of the TV by the time Selva came to purchase it, but employees gave her a coupon, and had her pay in full.
She thought she could just pick up the TV at a later date.  But after she’d already paid, she was given a notice telling her she had to register online.  When she went online, she found that registering the coupon meant agreeing to forced arbitration.  She refused to accept the terms, and contacted Walmart to ask for a refund.
Walmart said no.
Instead, the company told her she would have to agree to forced arbitration, receive the TV, and return the TV.  Only then could she receive a refund.
It wasn’t until KTRK contacted the company that Walmart finally relented and issued a refund.
The consequences of forced arbitration can be great.  In Lost in the Fine Print we document the stories of Nicole Mitchell and Debbie Brenner, victims of discrimination and fraud who were never allowed to defend their rights in court.
Walmart isn’t the only company that has tried to find creative ways to impose forced arbitration.
Take General Mills, for example.  Last spring, we told you about their new arbitration policy, which purported to force consumers into arbitration if they entered a company contest, printed a General Mills coupon, or even “liked” Cheerios on Facebook.
But public pressure forced General Mills to back down.  Now we’re putting the pressure on other companies.  Join our campaign to end forced arbitration and protect everyday Americans.
Watch one consumer’s battle against Walmart and forced arbitration

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