A federal judge in Washington state ruled that a class-action lawsuit against AT&T can proceed to trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez struck down as "unconscionable" a clause in subscribers’ contracts that required them to settle their complaints through arbitration with the company.
The case was filed in Seattle in 2006 on behalf of all AT&T Wireless customers who claim they were deceived or overcharged as a result of that company’s acquisition by Cingular.
The lawsuit claimed that these customers found they had to buy new equipment, move to higher cost plans, and, in some cases, pay an $18 "transfer" or "upgrade" fee.
"This is a major victory for AT&T customers all over the nation," said Harvey Rosenfield, a lawyer for California-based Consumer Watchdog , a nonprofit group.
An AT&T spokesman said the company was studying the ruling. "We respectfully disagree with the court’s conclusions," he said. "Our arbitration clause is among the most consumer friendly in the nation, and has been shown to be very consumer friendly in other cases."