Roberts: Standing up for consumers through Arbitration Service Provider Transparency Act (column) | VailDaily.com

Roberts: Standing up for consumers through Arbitration Service Provider Transparency Act (column)

Dylan Roberts
Valley Voices

Dylan Roberts

Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Every day at the Capitol before I sponsor or vote on legislation, I always ask, "How will this make people's lives better?" I was proud to sponsor the Arbitration Service Provider Transparency Act that has now passed through the House because it does just that: helps make everyday consumers' lives better.

Most of us are powerless in the face of corporate wrongdoing, whether it's fraud, discrimination, wage theft, faulty products or other problems. That's because the terms of agreements and contracts we automatically sign or click online contain hidden arbitration clauses for almost everything, including cellphones, credit cards, toys, child care, software, nursing homes, employment contracts and so much more.

I think it's wrong for corporations to stack the deck against everyday Coloradans — that's why I sponsored the Arbitration Service Provider Transparency Act in the state legislature this year. The bill asks arbitrators to provide public disclosures so that Coloradans have the same assurances of fairness, ethics and transparency as consumers are assured by the court system.

Right now, there are no public records associated with arbitration, so it's impossible to research whether a given company has a pattern of bad behavior, such as defrauding customers, sexually harassing employees or mistreating elders in nursing homes.

Almost 65,000 Coloradans found that banking giant Wells Fargo opened unauthorized accounts in their names, and some were charged bogus fees. But because of a forced arbitration agreement in the original contract customers signed, the only way to hold the corporation accountable was to seek justice one by one by one, behind closed doors. This secrecy allowed Wells Fargo to continue bilking customers for years without the public or media knowing about it.

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Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson was one of many victims of sexual harassment on the job, but she was unable to speak publicly or take legal action because of the forced arbitration clause in her employment contract. To this day, she can't disclose details of what happened due to the arbitration clause. This lack of transparency allows wrongdoing to go on for years behind the curtain.

And as Anne Meier, state long-term care ombudsman at Disability Law Colorado, told me recently, "Arbitration is a process that can hide patterns of neglect or abuse of vulnerable elders living in long-term care facilities — from families looking for care, the greater community and the media. When a loved one has been harmed, a family deserves to know that the arbitrator will be transparent and fair."

The information to be disclosed is simple: a list of the non-consumer or employer parties involved, the nature of the dispute, who prevailed and if there was an award, similar to information available in our court system. With this information available, the public will have access to information on a corporation's treatment of consumers. It's not burdensome, and it will go a long way to assure Coloradans that arbitration is a fair and transparent way to settle disputes.

As your legislator, it's my job to stick up for you, including standing up for your right to have an ethical and transparent process to hold a corporation responsible for any harm it might have caused you. That's why I'm proud to sponsor the Arbitration Service Provider Transparency Act, because you deserve to know if an arbitration service provider has a cozy relationship with a corporation when you're seeking justice.

Dylan Roberts is the representative for Colorado House District 26, encompassing Eagle and Routt counties. He can be reached at dylan.roberts.house@state.co.us or at 970-846-3054.