BOSTON (CBS) –Michelle Duchouquette says her opinion may cost her and her husband a fortune.
“When I say it out loud, saying, ‘I’m getting sued for up to a million dollars over this review’ I can’t believe it,” said Duchouquette.
The couple is facing a lawsuit of up to $1 million from Prestigious Pets of Dallas. All over a one-star review on Yelp.
Michelle wrote that she didn’t like the extra $5 fee to walk her dogs or that the fish bowl water was cloudy.
“I don’t think that it was hateful. It didn’t have bad intent,” she said.
What the couple didn’t realize when they signed up with the doggie daycare was that they also signed away their rights to share any bad experience about the company. It’s called a “non-disparagement” clause. And it’s often buried in the fine print.
“These gag clauses really work the same way that a bully does. They work through intimidation and threats,” said Brad Young, Assistant General Counsel at Needham-based TripAdvisor.
Young said with the increasing popularity of online reviews, it’s crucial that everyone is allowed to be honest, whether it’s a good or bad opinion.
“If the set of reviews that you’re looking at is not a complete set, you’re not getting an accurate picture of how you’re going to spend your family’s time and money,” he said. “You are getting a biased review.”
Both TripAdvisor and Yelp are now warning customers about companies using gag clauses. If they find out companies are using the tactic, they add bright red messages on the website for any potential customers to see.
“We need to make sure that consumer voices are protected. That’s what this bill intends to do,” said Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy.
The Congressman wants more than an online warning. He’s pushing for the Consumer Review Fairness Act.
If approved it would ban future gag clauses, void the clauses that have already been signed, and protect customers from retaliation after a bad review.
“Companies shouldn’t be able to shut that down just because they took issue with a review that somebody happened to post,” said Congressman Kennedy.
“The only reason we’re still in this, and we’re still talking about it, is because I really want it to not happen again,” explained Duchouquette. “You should be able to post an opinion.”
The reviews of the Consumer Review Fairness Act on Capitol Hill are positive and it’s receiving bipartisan support.
If approved, the new law would also give the federal government the authority to take action against companies trying to silence their unhappy customers.
For more information on Yelp policies and guidelines visit the company’s support page.
Travelers who wish to report concerns about a potential gag clause may contact TripAdvisor at firstname.lastname@example.org.