Once Again, Court Says Telco Can't Force Arbitration Over A Lawsuit

from the been-there,-done-that dept

This is hardly the first time we've seen such a case. In fact, the issue of whether or not companies can force their consumers to go to binding arbitration (which sides with the company somewhere around 95% of the time) over filing a class action lawsuit has been decided in favor of the consumers' rights to file the lawsuits over and over and over again. So, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that a court has told AT&T that it cannot force customers into binding arbitration rather than a class action lawsuit over bogus fees it charged.

Filed Under: arbitration, binding arbitration, class action
Companies: at&t


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  • icon
    GeneralEmergency (profile), 2 Sep 2008 @ 5:43pm

    There must be at least a few....

    ....AT&T employees reading TechDirt.

    If you are an AT&T employee, please answer the following question honestly after standing up and looking your cube neighbors in the eyes.

    Do you or any of your coworkers actually have a soul? Or at least a close facsimile?

    Seriously, we all want to know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2008 @ 9:19pm

      Re: There must be at least a few....

      You think the cube monkeys and the sales reps are to blame? Seriously, get off your high-horse. Of course I have a soul. Of course it's easy to demonize a few thousand people as if we're all plotting against you, when you really just have a chip on your shoulder for some reason.

      I'm an AT&T corporate sales rep in NJ. My job is to sell phones and I have the capability to perform basic customer services. There is no "Screw the customer" set of policies. In fact there is a whole list of reasons they give us to be ABLE to break rules so the customer walks out happy. We do have limited abilities in some areas (like offering credits, we can't do that, only customer service can), but we do what we can. Yes, there were some overzealous lawyers at some point who were paid to "cover the company's ass". What company DOESN'T have a few "anti-consumer" policies in them? Of course some people bitch about cancellation fees and and ONLY a 30-day return policy as "anti-consumer", but let's be realistic. A LOT of these "improper billing errors" are due to kinks in an automated system looking after millions of customer's information and billing things appropriately. If you can design a system that does that without the occasional glitch then clearly you're not living up to your potential as you're sitting on techdirt calling AT&T reps soulless instead of working on such a project.

      Know why there's some people stuck with overages and whatnot that AT&T won't credit? Because half of the customers that have problems, lie. Don't believe me, I'm sure you're scoffing right now. But I have had customer hand me phones full of lemonade saying it CAME THAT WAY and now it doesn't work. A son ran up $100 in calls to Canada, but it's CLEARLY a billing error until I find the number called stored in the kid's phone and it was a girl he met on the internet... and they still fought saying the charges should be removed and that's illegal... As a sales rep I have eyes and the ability to touch and to see EXACTLY what the problem is. Phone reps don't. They have to take everything they hear with a very large grain of salt. There are some people wrongly punished by this, but it's not as wide as some of you people make out. The loudest voices are usually from the unhappiest few, because their egos were bruised when we didn't cater to their every need. Yes, it's not a forgivable excuse, but I'm merely being realistic. It's all a game of odds, people just don't like it when the odds aren't in their favor. It's like bitching at a casino for taking your money.

      You don't like the terms or the company, don't do business with them. I wouldn't. I see the company from the inside out and I see nothing that wouldn't prevent me from being a customer with them morally.

      So yes, we have souls. We also have a lot of shitty customers that ruin it for the good ones, because we have to be on the defensive.

      And if you feel that anything I said was a poor representation of the company, my customer feedback ratings are 93% of them are 100% satisfied, 3% were completely dissatisfied and the remaining 4% somewhere in the middle. Anyone who works in retail knows it's hard to make that many people that happy. So, clearly, plenty of people out there are happy, the few that aren't I don't think will ever be happy with anything.

      C'est la vie.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2008 @ 2:22pm

        Re: Re: There must be at least a few....

        You don't like the terms or the company, don't do business with them. I wouldn't.
        You don't like having a company's bad reputation rub off on you, don't work for them. I wouldn't.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2008 @ 6:13pm

    I'd like to think that the rank and file aren't really all that evil, and it's mostly the upper management and especially the lawyers that wrote the contracts.

    Oh and and the tech support "people" (if they are people) I have YET to get one that is even vaguely competent and can do anything besides read a script.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul, 2 Sep 2008 @ 7:01pm

    AT&T Customer Service

    I've spent probably about a week talking to AT&T CS over the past 4 years, about half of it related to their miserable unified messaging service, and I have concluded that some good AT&T CS people are hobbled by terrible information systems and poor service integration.

    The people I dealt with weren't dumb or hostile (for the most part - a few were), but they seemed to have no authority to deliver what they promised, and no way to set reasonable expectations or, in some cases, to even see an order's progress and follow up without calling another department.

    Mergers are probably partly responsible. Poor system design has to be partly to blame. Maybe union work rules play a part. But somebody high up has failed to build a company that works. Can't wait to pull my business from them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Phil, 2 Sep 2008 @ 7:32pm

    Let's face facts...

    Southwestern Bell turned SBC bought up AT&T and then AT&T bought BellSouth.

    When I was a customer of Southwestern Bell Company, I had 15, count them, 15 incorrect bills with rarely a correct bill in the mix. The amount of overcharges amounted to as little as .99 to hundreds of dollars. Never an undercharge in the bunch, but always an overbilling. I had to fight with them to correct each and every bill to the point that I would hang up as soon as they indicated that they would not fix the overcharge and immediately call back to get another agent until the point was resolved.

    Clearly the most clueless and under manage company on the face of the earth, but highly competent at overbilling and reaping in the rewards. Mainly because so many of their customers never check their billings and never call and complain about the overcharges they are incurring. Even as I told my story of woe over and over to the giant's minions, it was explained to me that they had a right to present whatever charge they were routed on to the bill and it was not in their interest to police the billing process. Needless to say, I am no longer a customer of AT&T.

    Let's face facts... SBC did not take over AT&T and then BellSouth by treating it's customers ethically and morally. It is just a shame that more of their customers do not wake up and flood the phone lines with questions, complaints and concerns relating to the overbillings that must be occuring.

    I have nothing against AT&T personally, but I think I am entitled to get what I pay for and pay for what I get. However, I know of instance after instance where AT&T insists on raking in dollars for services they are not even providing. That is truly the incredible part of this whole process. They know they are doing business to their benefit only in so many instances and they feel that it is their right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Benjamin Wright, 2 Sep 2008 @ 8:02pm

    software security

    Some argue that if courts would stop enforcing EULAs, they would force technology vendors to provide more secure products and services. I disagree. Courts can't be expected to do much more than to prevent blatant cheating. --Ben http://hack-igations.blogspot.com/2008/01/liability-for-publishing-insecure.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan, 2 Sep 2008 @ 8:39pm

    AT&T's biggest problem is their persistent GOD complex. How could they possibly be wrong, they feel that they are GOD, after all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    keto, 2 Sep 2008 @ 11:09pm

    yes consumers suck

    i agree with the att rep guy, not necessarily with how good att actually is, but with how crazy some consumers can be.

    the worst ones tend to be.....cheap, middle age, and "somewhat" educated. no offense but, personally asian women rank the highest in hard-to-reason top 10. lol

    anyhow, it's the lawyers and evil genius who are responsible for finding a loop hole in the laws, trying to make more money. I hope they get fined so heavily that they will again be bought out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bell Labs RIP, 3 Sep 2008 @ 5:13am

    Everyone hates the phone Company

    So, number 7 ...
    are you saying that the unconscionable "agreement" is ok ?
    Did you even read the article ......
    I suppose you were only responding to prior comments and did not feel the need to address anything else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2008 @ 5:16am

    Mike is wrong . . .

    We are a TELCO and we can do as we wish . . .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous of Course, 3 Sep 2008 @ 7:32am

    Why telco's suck, kinda...

    The expectations for increased profitability are
    unrealistic given the rate of new customers being
    added. So utilities have to entice people into
    consuming more services or adpot preditory practices
    that are improper for a monopoly. Even a monopoly
    given the veneer of a competitive market.

    I'm kinda peeved at Verizon, mostly because they lie.
    I called about the long distance connection fee of
    $6.50 a month on my bill. I have no LD service so
    I didn't see why I should pay this fee. It was in the
    fees section of the bill not taxes and tarrifs. The
    Verizon service representative eventually turned me
    over to her supervisor after telling me it was a tax
    required by the FCC. When I asked why it was listed as
    a fee the supervisor simply repeated the same lie.

    I checked with the FCC and it was a fee designed to
    protect local mom and pop phone companies who had to
    connect to the Bell system. The only thing the FCC
    requires is a limit on the fee which is, of course,
    what Verizon charges... just because they can.

    It's not so much the fee as the deceit that I find
    objectionable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2008 @ 2:36pm

      Re: Why telco's suck, kinda...

      It's not so much the fee as the deceit that I find
      objectionable.
      I remember once upon a time when I was much younger being told that fraud was illegal and that people who practiced it went to prison. Alas, these days it seems to be a way for large corporations and their executives to make money. Perish the thought of any jail time for them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2008 @ 7:33am

    It wasn't about Arbitration

    Although the whole dispute resolution section got tossed because of the bad clauses, the decision went out of it's way to say it was not about arbitration. It was the class-action waver, unbalanced legal fee component, restriction of time limits etc that got things tossed. The court didn't even cover the EULA / post purchase nature of the contract saying they didn't need to in order to toss the clause at dispute as it came to them. Unfortunately the Federal Arbitration Act (or w/e FAA stands for exactly) means that if you AREN'T a bastard in your contract but still include an arbitration clause you'll likely get that wish.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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