Can you lose your right to a jury trial by eating food? General Mills, one of the world’s largest food companies, thinks so. It adopted policies that customers who buy its products, join its online communities like Facebook or download coupons give up their constitutional rights to a jury trial. Instead these its policy requires arbitration of legal disputes.
General Mills’ policy looks destined to be tested by the courts. If it stands, it will have a major impact on employment and justice in the United States. Could an employer have a policy that if you use their restrooms or enjoy their air-conditioned air you waive a host of rights? It does not seem much different than eating food.
Jury trials ensure that people are treated fairly and lawfully. Arbitration may not be in the best interests of employees and the common people. These policies can be used to limit people’s recoveries by putting limits on damages and the ability to investigate the facts of their case. Most people are not aware that arbitraters charge thousands of dollars per day.
In California, arbitration contracts can be challenged as unconscioanable. But the United States Supreme Court’s decisions have strongly favored business’ positions on arbitration. For example, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion bars class actions in arbitrations. For all of you iPhone users, that means if you have a legal dispute with AT&T, you are going it alone — not with the help of others with the same problem. Could General Mills’ policy be too much even for the arbitration friendly Supreme Court?
Only time will tell. Therefore, next time you are on Facebook, watch what you “like.”