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Press Release: AFR joins 8 Allied Groups and More than 67,000 People in Telling PNC and Well Fargo to Stop Using Forced Arbitration

Submitted by on November 20, 2014 – 11:06 am
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Petitions signed by more than 67,000 consumers and activists were delivered today (Nov. 20) to PNC Financial headquarters in Pittsburgh and Wells Fargo headquarters in San Francisco calling on those banks to remove terms in their contracts that strip customers of their right to a day in court.

The petition organized by national consumer and citizen groups including The Other 98%, Americans for Financial Reform, Public Citizen, Consumer Action, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, American Association for Justice and Alliance for Justice, targeted the five biggest banks that use forced arbitration clauses: PNC, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and US Bancorp.

Public Citizen delivered the petition to PNC in Pittsburgh, while Consumer Action delivered the petition to Wells Fargo in San Francisco.

Forced arbitration clauses, buried in the fine print, prevent consumers who have been harmed or ripped off from holding their bank accountable in court and instead force them to plead their case to a private arbitration provider, picked by the banks. The result is that consumers cannot practically or fairly resolve disputes with powerful institutions or seek remedies for harm caused by their wrongful conduct.

“Our organizations have observed how banks have used arbitration clauses to violate consumer protection laws,” the groups said in letters delivered with the petitions. “Some of these violations have led to severe economic harms to consumers and the financial marketplace at large.”

The petition comes as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) studies the use of forced arbitration by financial institutions against their customers. It has been nearly a year since the CFPB released its preliminary data on the arbitration study, confirming that the practice is prevalent in checking accounts, prepaid cards, credit cards and other everyday consumer financial products. The CFPB is authorized to ban forced arbitration after it releases the final report.

“The broad response that the petition has received around the country shows a strong consumer demand for an end to this rigged game designed by Wall Street,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

“Many consumers don’t even know that buried in their contracts is a forced arbitration clause that preemptively blocks their right to a day in court,” said Alexis Goldstein, Communications Director at Other98.com. “Forced arbitration is a secret weapon America’s biggest banks are using to deny basic rights to citizens.”

“Forced arbitration is a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the banks. Getting rid of it is about holding them accountable if they break the law, and making sure they too have to play by the rules,” said Lisa Donner, Executive Director, Americans for Financial Reform.

“It’s not acceptable for banks to force consumers to give up legal rights in order to open an account or get a credit card,” said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action. “Along with our allies, we call on these powerful large institutions to do the right thing and eliminate forced arbitration in their contracts.”

“With forced arbitration, Wall Street has granted itself a license to steal from Americans and evade the law,” said AAJ President Lisa Blue Baron. “The tremendous response to this petition sends a clear message that Americans are outraged by this despicable practice. It is time for financial institutions, as well as all corporations, to honor the rights of customers and stop using forced arbitration.”

These five Wall Street banks are stripping away a constitutional right to a trial by jury from their customers if they have been cheated or harmed.  It’s time for JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, US Bancorp and PNC Financial to respect their customers and stop using forced arbitration! – Ellen Taverna, legislative director of National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA)

“Facing off against a big bank in arbitration is like playing a baseball game in which the other team hires and fires the umpires,” said Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice. “Today customers are demanding that banks restore the rights that have been lost in the fine print.”

Read the petition.

View the letter to PNC.

View the letter to Wells Fargo.

Americans for Financial Reform is a coalition of more than 200 civil rights, consumer, labor, business, investor, faith-based, and civic and community groups working for a simpler and safer financial system that does a better job of serving the economy and the nation as a whole.

The Other 98% is both a non-profit organization and a grassroots network of concerned people that shines a light on economic injustice, undue corporate influence and threats to democracy. It works to kick corporate lobbyists out of DC, hold elected officials accountable, and make America work not just for the elite but for the other 98% of us.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization representing consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

Through multilingual financial education materials, community outreach, and issue-focused advocacy, Consumer Action empowers underrepresented consumers nationwide to assert their rights in the marketplace and financially prosper

The National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) is a nonprofit association of consumer advocates and attorney members who represent hundreds of thousands of consumers victimized by fraudulent, abusive and predatory business practices. As an organization fully committed to promoting justice for consumers, NACA’s members and their clients are actively engaged in promoting a fair and open marketplace that forcefully protects the rights of consumers, particularly those of modest means.

As the world’s largest trial bar, the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) works to make sure people have a fair chance to receive justice through the legal system when they are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others—even when it means taking on the most powerful corporations.

Alliance for Justice is a national association of over 100 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society.

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