Getting the Supreme Court to overturn a fairly recent ruling is very difficult. The Court simply does not like to do that. In one way it is good since it keeps our laws fairly consistent. In April of 2011 the Court ruled in favor of AT&T in AT&T Mobility v Conception. This case has to do the consumer rights of average Americans. It affects almost every American and yet I am willing to bet well under 10% of American adults even know it exists. Let’s explore just what it is and what the impact of the 2016 election will have on it.
The case stems from a dispute over a mobile phone contract. AT&T had a provision in the standard contract you sign when you purchase their cell phone service that prohibited a customer from entering into a class action suit and forces them into individual arbitration with AT&T. I am willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of my readers have cell phones. Be honest with yourself now: Did you read the entire contract before you signed it? The answer is probably “No” as it is in my case. The reason is actually intelligent: These are standard contracts that the provider is not willing to alter in any form. It is simply a case of take it or leave it and all of their competitors have similar contracts and identical stances. In the final analysis you do not have a viable choice.
Employers are doing something similar in that they are making new employees sign an agreement waiving their right to sue as part of a class action instead opting for arbitration. In fact the company often provides the “benefit” of paying for the arbitrator and the entire cost of the process. What they don’t mention is that they also select the arbitrator who knows that if they don’t produce a track record of ruling in the company’s favor they will lose their arbitration contract with the company. It like going on the road with a basketball team and the officials are the opposing coach’s three brothers. Do you think you are going to get a fair shake?
Again if you want the job you have no choice but to sign on for the “employee benefit”. Companies tried to pressure existing employees into signing on a few years back. I worked for a company (the world leader in its industry) that did just that. To my knowledge my direct boss and I were the only two employees that they failed to intimidate into signing on. That didn’t exactly endear us to the big boys.
Class action suits somewhat protect the average guy and gal. Almost nobody has the wherewithal to take on a giant corporation on their own. Lawyers are independent businesspeople and in most cases cannot take on a big corporation in anticipation of a settlement when the individual settlement will be small.
Conception was a 5-4 decision with the late Antonin Scalia writing the opinion. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. This was a typical 5-4 decision with the conservatives on one side, the liberals on the other and Kennedy providing the swing vote.
With what now appears to be the Republicans successful obstruction of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland they have circumvented the Constitution so that President-elect Trump will get to nominate a replacement for Scalia. Conception will stay in place. In fact only a fool would bother to challenge it with the game rigged against them. Big corporations will run roughshod over the little guy. So much for Donald Trump being your savior; he is part of the problem and those of you who voted for him got conned. Some day you may even realize that.
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