By Erika K. Duthely
AFJ Dorot Law Fellow

UPDATE, APRIL 20, 2014: General Mills has given in to public pressure and reversed the policy described below.  But even in the blog post announcing the reversal, the company continues to mislead consumers about what forced arbitration really does.  And, of course, other companies continue to impose forced arbitration clauses on consumers and employees.  So we still need the Arbitration Fairness Act.

Take action.  Tell Congress to stop General Mills – or any other company – from putting “Trix” in the fine print.

Read more about Forced Arbitration

Did you enjoy a bowl of cereal this morning, like so many other Americans?  Well, you may want to reconsider next time you pick up that spoonful of Cheerios.

The New York Times reports that General Mills recently updated its privacy policy, forcing customers to waive their TRIXGMcampaign2 (2)rights to sue the company in court.  If a customer has a dispute, she or he  must first informally negotiate via e-mail and then head to arbitration if those negotiations fail.  This clause kicks in when a customer receives any benefit from General Mills, including entering a contest, printing a coupon, or interacting with the company in a number of other ways.

General Mills is taking the position that, once a consumer is subject to the policy, forced arbitration clause and all, all interactions with that consumer are shielded from litigation–even the simple act of purchasing General Mills products.  As stated on the General Mills website “We’ve updated our Privacy Policy. Please note we also have new Legal Terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.” This seems to mean that, if you participate in Box Tops for Education for your child’s school, and then you happen to bite down on a rock or a piece of glass during your morning bowl of Lucky Charms, General Mills would seek to force you to pursue your dispute in arbitration – with an arbitrator paid by General Mills—rather than having your case heard before an impartial judge or jury.

Increasing numbers of companies have begun including these clauses in their terms of service, ever since the Supreme Court ruled in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion that federal arbitration law – allowing for such arbitration clauses—preempts all state laws that may limit their use.  This was made even worse when the Supreme Court decided in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant that corporations can enforce class action bans in arbitration agreements even when doing so would make it effectively impossible for individuals and small businesses to vindicate their legal rights.  Although there was a flood of forced arbitration clauses that hit the market after these decisions, General Mills is the first large food company to include such a clause, which has dangerous implications for public safety.

This is unacceptable.  Americans have the right to have their day in court and we cannot continue to let big businesses take this right away from us.  There is a solution.  The Arbitration Fairness Act would put an end to these injustices.

Take action.  Tell Congress to stop General Mills – or any other company – from putting “Trix” in the fine print.

Read more about Forced Arbitration