Frontier Communications Can’t Force Disgruntled Customers Into Arbitration, Judge Rules

Customers who sued Frontier Communications for failing to provide the high-speed Internet services it promises cannot be forced into arbitration, Lincoln County Circuit Judge Jay Hoke ruled late last month.

Frontier argued that customers had agreed to an arbitration agreement as part of the company’s “Terms and Conditions,” but the judge found that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit had never agreed to the arbitration clause, which was buried on Frontier’s website.

The judge said that Frontier’s other attempts to inform customers of the clause fell short as well, as they were buried at the end of bills.

Many companies have increasingly tried to force disputes with customers or employees into private arbitration rather than the court system. As The New York Times found in a recent investigation, private arbitration is anything but a level playing field for individuals pitted against corporations.

Though companies increasingly insert arbitration clauses into reams of fine print, Judge Hoke said the law requires that both parties must clearly agree to any contract compelling arbitration.

This was not a matter, the judge said, of customers failing to read their contracts. Rather, he wrote, “this is a case where the purported contracts were insufficiently presented to ‘manifest assent.’ ”

The customers in this case have been represented by Bailey & Glasser’s Jonathan Marshall, Patricia Kipnis and James Kauffman and Ben Sheridan of Klein, Sheridan & Glazer in Huntington.

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