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Your rights to a class action lawsuit cannot be bullied away from you.

It is not OK to put “unconscionable” clauses in your contract that take away the right of the public to band together as a group and sue you, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco agreed, setting the stage for a class action lawsuit against Cingular Wireless in Los Angeles.

In Cingular’s case they gave the consumers contracts to sign that included clauses that were detrimental to them, but that did not allow any negotiation of the terms. Additionally, they threatened some former AT&T customers with early termination fees if they did not sign on the dotted line.

The problems started back in 2004, when Cingular bought AT&T, merging the two, and AT&T customers began to complain about a lack of services and lost calls in geographical areas where they had previously had service. Many customers wanted out, but when Cingular and AT&T merged they were stuck with accepting degraded cell service or early termination fees that sometimes were over $100. And, for those who didn’t leave, oftentimes they were forced to buy new equipment.

According to the LA Times, the suit was originally filed by Kenneth Shroyer of Los Angeles, who had been an AT&T Wireless customer in 2004. In his suit Shroyer alleged that the quality of his service deteriorated after the company was acquired by Cingular. Shroyer said that when he called to complain he was told that he could get better service if he switched to a Cingular system, which involved getting a new chip in his phone. But in order to get the chip Shroyer said he was forced to sign a contract that included a provision saying he could not band together with any other disgruntled cell consumers and sue the company, but that he would have to go it alone against the company.

But, the court has rendered its decision and the case against Cingular will go forward. Finally, consumers will have their day in court as they fight against “unconscionable” clauses in contracts, poor service, and unfair termination charges that hold them hostage.

Been taken advantage of by a large company? I’d like to hear about it.

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