Dems introduce bill to restore consumers' right to sue

Senate Democrats unveiled legislation Thursday to protect consumers’ right to settle disputes with companies in court.

The Restoring Statutory Rights Act, which Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced with lead co-sponsor Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), would prohibit businesses from using forced arbitration against Americans for disputes arising under civil rights laws.

“When Americans’ rights are infringed, they deserve their day in court,” Franken said. “Sadly, when big corporations insulate themselves from liability through ‘forced arbitration’ clauses — which are slipped into things like credit card agreements and employment agreements — they stack the deck against Americans who are trying to exercise that fundamental right."

The legislation is Leahy’s response to a New York Times investigation that found companies are circumventing the courts by forcing consumers in fine print to settle disputes privately with an arbitrator chosen by the company. The clauses often prohibit consumers from joining class action lawsuits as well.

When Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act in 1925, Leahy said the intent was to give businesses an alternative venue to resolve their disputes.

“There is a valid role for arbitration when parties choose it willingly, after a dispute arises, as an alternative to court,” Leahy said. “But arbitration should not be forced upon consumers and workers through take-it-or-leave-it contracts they have no real choice but to accept.”

The American Association for Justice said corporations have been using forced arbitration to evade laws for far too long.

“Forced arbitration is a widespread, abusive practice orchestrated by the world’s most powerful corporations to ensure that Americans can never hold them accountable in court when they break laws designed to empower individuals,” Linda Lipsen, the group’s CEO, said in a statement.

“This bill should send a clear message to corporations that use forced arbitration to strip Americans of their fundamental rights: When Congress passes a law, they mean it.”