Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Signing Away Your Rights

Have you ever read the fine print of credit card companies, rental car companies, your employment agreement, or any other contract? More and more companies are burying binding arbitration in the contracts.

I read Google News headline and one of them popped out at me…
Uber is not the only tech company that mishandles sexual harassment claims
Techcrunch
By Megan Rose Dickey
February 20, 2017

On Sunday, a female former Uber engineer detailed her experiences of sexual harassment during her one-year stint at the multibillion-dollar company.

The engineer, Susan Fowler, said she experienced sexual harassment and had reported it to Uber’s human resources department but to no avail. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has since said that he plans to investigate.

Unfortunately, Fowler’s experience with sexual harassment at Uber does not seem to be uncommon in the tech industry, with 60 percent of women in tech reporting receiving unwanted sexual advances, according to the 2016 Elephant in the Valley survey. Fowler’s failed attempt to receive help from Uber’s HR department also seems to be common at tech companies.

We’ve been hearing about sexual harassment for years in the tech industry, perhaps most notably beginning with Ellen Pao’s 2012 sexual discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In 2014, now-former GitHub engineer Julie Ann Horvath detailed her experiences of sexism and intimidation and just last year, Amelie Lamont, a former employee Squarespace, alleged overt racism and sexism at the company.
When you click on “I Agree” you just signed away all your legal rights! And sometimes you don't even have to click on "I Agree," more on that later.

They pick the arbitrator and you can bet your bottom dollar that the arbitrator knows where their paycheck gets signed.

Even the state of Connecticut falls into the binding arbitration trap, according to the New Haven Register,
With even Gov. Dannel Malloy acknowledging that binding arbitration for municipal government employee union contracts may be a bit of a problem amid state government’s worsening insolvency, maybe sensible change is coming to Connecticut. But what the governor has proposed is timid, little more than an invitation to the General Assembly to discuss the issue, which is the last thing legislators want to do, lest they provoke the unions and all the government employees living in their districts.

But this would leave the binding arbitration system in place, a system that removes most of a municipal budget from the ordinary democratic process. The governor’s proposal is not likely to save any significant money for the public.

Elected officials want binding arbitration almost as much as government employee unions do because they don’t want to have to be seen choosing between taxpayers and government employees. Elected officials want someone else — those unelected arbiters — to take responsibility for the big decisions that drive municipal taxes up or public services down every year. Elected officials want to be able to shrug and proclaim their helplessness to their constituents.
In other words we could vote down a budget and it gets reinstated by an arbitrator and there is nothing that the town can do because a lot of times in the contract there is a clause that says disagreements will be settled by arbitration.

A NPR article tackles binding arbitration,
Have We Lost A Constitutional Right In The Fine Print?
November 12, 2015

Fresh Air
New York Times reporter Jessica Silver-Greenberg says many companies' contracts force consumers to settle complaints through arbitration instead of in court, and include bans on class action suits.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who has a couple of days off. Think for a moment, and you can probably remember a dozen times when you've signed a contract or clicked a box online, agreeing to a long list of terms you never read. Our guest, New York Times business reporter Jessica Silver-Greenberg, says embedded in many of those agreements for cell phones, rental cars, as well as employment contracts and countless other goods and services, are a few words which have dramatically altered consumers' ability to challenge deceptive business practices. Companies now require their customers to agree to pursue any complaint through a private arbitration process, rather than going to court. Also included in many of these clauses are bans on class action lawsuits where a large group of consumers could join together to pool resources and reveal a widespread pattern of illegal or deceptive practices. The right to require arbitration was ratified in a series of battles in the Supreme Court, which, Silver-Greenberg says, was engineered by a Wall Street coalition of credit card companies and retailers. Silver-Greenberg and her co-authors, reporters Michael Corkery and Robert Gebeloff reviewed thousands of court records and conducted hundreds of interviews for a three- part series which ran recently in The New York Times. I spoke to Jessica Silver-Greenberg on Tuesday.
[…]
JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG: So arbitration - I think the simplest way to think about it is it's a parallel system. So it's a parallel to court. So it's a private system where there is no judge, there is no jury, and the rules are set up slightly different - well, some would say very different - from court. Instead of a judge presiding over your case, you'll have what's called a neutral, an arbitrator - typically a retired judge or a lawyer who will decide the outcome of your case. And then there are all these kind of steps from there, but that's the basic setup. Arbitration was designed - in its ideal form, it was designed to really be a system where companies of equal bargaining power went to work out their disputes. So say they had a dispute over a widget, and they wanted - instead of a judge, they wanted the expert on widgets to preside over their case. Well, they could do that. They could avoid the sometimes costly and bureaucratic procedures in court and go to this alternative forum. But in that instance, it would be two entities that were agreeing to go. What we have in the consumer context and the employment context is far different.
Think about this, your employer here in Connecticut comes right out and says “Your fired because we don’t want you people working here.

This is blatantly discrimination based on your gender identity, no ifs, ands, or buts. So you file a complaint with the CHRO and you go see a lawyer and it gets thrown out because when you were hired your signed a binding arbitration agreement.

So you go to binding arbitration, the company hires the arbitrator. The arbitrator hears your case but finds in favor of the company. What can you do… absolutely nothing because you signed your legal rights away.

Think this is farfetched?
Judge: Airbnb Can Force Users’ Racial Discrimination Claims Out Of Courtroom
Consumerist
By Chris Morran
November 1, 2016

A large — and growing — number of companies use arbitration clauses in their overlong, legalese-stuffed customer agreements to prevent customers from bringing lawsuits and joining together in class actions, but can that arbitration agreement be used to avoid legal liability for possible violations of federal civil rights law? According to one federal judge, yes.

In March 2015, a man named Gregory Selden was planning a visit to Philadelphia and signed up for Airbnb on his iPhone. He created his account and uploaded a photo of himself to the site. Selden, an African-American, then says he tried to rent a listed home from a host named Paul, only to have Paul give him the bad news that this room was no longer available.

However, Selden says that he soon noticed that this same listing was still posted as available to rent on Airbnb. Curious to find out if he’d been rejected by the host because of the color of his skin, Selden created copycat accounts under the name of “Jessie,” a white male whose profile was otherwise no different from Selden’s, and “Todd,” an older white male. Both accounts tried to reserve the same listing and same time period for which Selden had been rejected, and he says both fictional guests’ requests were accepted by Paul.
[…]
When Selden signed up for Airbnb on his iPhone, he did not even have to check a box to say that he’d read the site’s user agreement. Instead, as you can see on the left, the Airbnb terms are passively agreed to by simply “signing up” for the site.
They have us over a barrel!

There is nothing that we can do because the cable company, electric company, and just about every “I Agree” have an arbitrator clause in it. You want any service you have to sign it or you will not have electricity, or gas, or cable, or a credit card.

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