Put a bad review on line and you risk not just making the business mad, but maybe lawsuits and fines. You may not even know you’re doing something that could get you in trouble, but buried in the TOS (term of service agreements) you never read, or buried in some small type on a contract might be a non-disparagement clause.
Consumer Review Fairness Act
That’s where a new law comes in. Both the House and Senate have passed legislation called the Consumer Review Fairness Act. It’s now awaiting the President’s signature. The legislation will allow Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights regarding consumer experiences without fear of retribution.
“This law is about protecting consumers posting honest feedback online,” said New Jersey Congressman Leonard Lance, author of the bill. “Online reviews and ratings are critical in the 21st Century and consumers should be able to post, comment and tweet their honest and accurate feedback without fear of retribution.”
The Consumer Review Fairness Act would void any non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts. It also would ensure companies are still able to remove false and defamatory reviews.
Courts have started to penalize companies for trying to do this.
Here are Four examples:
- It’s aimed at clauses like this one, the Texas nursing student who claimed poor service from her lawyer and posted a negative review on Yelp and Facebook who was subsequently sued by the lawyers for six figures.
RESULT: Suit dismissed; attorneys ordered to pay nearly $27,000 in legal fees
- Or this one, a lease addendum sent to renters at a Salt Lake City apartment complex. Renters were told they had five days to friend the apartment complex on Facebook or they’d be in breach of their lease. Oh, and no negatives posts. And, if you post a picture of the complex to Facebook, they have the rights to use them however they want.
“I don’t want to be forced to be someone’s friend and be threatened to break my lease because of that.” — Jason Ring on KSL.com
RESULT: The apartment complex backed off after a lot of negative publicity, saying signing it was “optional.”
Apartment tenants told they had five days to comply
- Or this one, where people hired a company called Presigious Pets to do some pet setting of fish. Its contract had a non-disparagement clause and when one couple wrote that their fish had been overfed, Presitigious Pets sued them. First, for more than $6,000 and then, after losing in small claims court, suing for $1 million dollars for defamation.
RESULT: Tossed out of court.
- Or a now defunct cell phone accessory company that fined a customer $250 for telling them she was going to dispute the credit card charges because the phone case she ordered never arrived. She called to cancel when it was past its delivery date and was told she couldn’t.
The company also threatened to report the $250 “debt” to credit reporting agencies, to ruin (Cindy) Cox’s credit score and to have a collections agency hound Cox “continuously.” Accessory Outlet promised that Cox’s debt “will continue to rise with every email and every second we dedicate” to the matter. It also said that it had enforced the terms of sale against “many individuals” and that Cox was “playing games with the wrong people and [had] made a very bad mistake.” — Public Citizen
The case did arrive eventually. It was defective, according to Cox.
RESULT: Court granted a default judgment, ruling in the consumer’s favor.
“Too many companies are burying non-disparagement clauses in fine print and going after consumers when they post negative feedback online. This will now end,” said Lance.