This piece has been corrected.
This segment originally aired Jan. 30, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
There’s a clause hidden in most of the long company contracts no one reads. And it’s tucked away for good reason: A lot of people would probably think twice about signing if they knew the clause existed.
It’s called an arbitration clause, and it protects companies from lawsuits. A group of Wells Fargo customers is learning that the hard way.
But in February, the Supreme Court will decide if companies should be allowed to include arbitration clauses in their employee contracts.
Anyone, employees and customers alike, who signs a contract with an arbitration clause has to settle any legal dispute they might have outside of court, in a private arbitration hearing, where companies are far more likely to win.
Arbitration agreements have become so popular, it’s almost impossible to open a bank account, get a credit card, rent a car, or use Netflix, Tinder, or Groupon without signing one. Most of the time, they don’t end up mattering. But when they’re used, it can be extremely hard for customers to hold a company accountable for serious wrongdoing.
Correction: A previous version of this piece mischaracterized a case before the Supreme Court regarding arbitration. The Supreme Court will decide if companies should be allowed to include arbitration clauses in their employee contracts, not in their consumer contracts.