If you're like me, when you get your phone or cable bill, you usually sit staring at it for several minutes in confusion. In addition to the airtime or package charges (which always seem higher than they should be) there is a list of charges for unusually vague items. It is frustrating when you can't tell whether they are legitimate or just another way for the utility to lighten your wallet.
If it turns out that the charge is not legitimate, your first thought is to call the company and demand a refund. But what if it refuses? You probably aren't going to hire a lawyer to pursue a case over $5, $10, even $100, and the large and powerful company knows this.
So how does a little old everyday citizen expect to get justice against such odds? Well, in America, one of the most effective ways is to team up with all the other little guys who are getting the shaft.
Class-action lawsuits are used when there is a large group of people who have all been wronged by the same entity. Whereas their individual cases would not have been economically feasible to pursue, they create a force to be reckoned with when they band together.
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These suits are probably the most effective tool that an individual employee, consumer or citizen has to challenge a powerful company — that is until rulings like the one recently handed down by the Supreme Court take effect.
Many Kentuckians likely heard at least something about the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding Wal-Mart and the sexual-discrimination lawsuit against it. While the case itself is important, the impact of this decision goes far beyond this one lawsuit. In fact, it affects us all.
To give you some background, in the case of Dukes vs. Wal-Mart, a very large group of the company's female employees claimed that Wal-Mart had systematically discriminated against them by promoting men to managerial positions in greater numbers. What originally was a handful of plaintiffs eventually grew to more than 1 million.
The case had been winding its way through the court system and was being heard by the Supreme Court on appeal. The court's ruling that a class action with such a large number of plaintiffs could not move forward not only affects this case, but also sets a dangerous precedent for future cases involving large and powerful companies.
Lawsuits are about taking responsibility and holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions, and class actions simply do this on a larger scale. Without this option, victims have one less tool in an ever-shrinking arsenal with which to fight back against companies of this size. It's an unfortunate trend that is coming from the Supreme Court, and it leaves those seeking justice, like the female Wal-Mart employees, with few options.
In the case of the plaintiff's in Dukes vs. Wal-Mart, they may still pursue their cases individually, which as we've already seen, is unlikely to cause the necessary change in behavior or be cost effective, or the women can attempt to form smaller classes. Either way, the impact is smaller and the accountability less.
So what does this mean for the average Kentucky citizen sitting at home today? Well, if you use a product, receive a service or work for a large, powerful company, and that product, service or employer wronged you in some way, your option to join together and confront that company is in jeopardy. It essentially creates a new set of rules and standards by which powerful companies are judged. Their interests have triumphed over accountability and responsibility, and their profits have triumphed over people.
This case is but one in a series of Supreme Court decisions that are weighted in favor of corporate interests and that erode the average citizen's ability to fight back.
While the CEOs are cheering this decision, they do so standing on the backs of Americans. And sooner or later, those Americans will realize that it's not much fun being pushed aside in the name of corporate greed.
It's time for the billing-overcharge victims of the world to unite and tell these powerful interests that justice belongs to everyone, not just the rich and powerful.