Utah couple John and Jen Palmer are fighting a $3,500 fine from online store KlearGear, issued after Mrs Palmer posted a negative review of the site on the Web.
The story begins in 2008, when John Palmer bought a handful of gifts for his wife from the KlearGear website. The items never arrived, the transaction was cancelled by PayPal, and calls from the Palmers to KlearGear went unanswered.
At this point Mrs Palmer wrote a negative review of KlearGear on complaints portal Ripoff Report. “There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being,” she wrote.
Fast forward to 2012 and KlearGear emailed the Palmers with a charge for $3,500 if the posting was not taken down. The communication cited a Non-Disparagement Clause that wasn’t part of the site’s terms and conditions when the items were originally ordered. It reads: “Your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.”
“We were shocked that somebody would actually attempt to do this,” Jen Palmer told CNN. “It’s ridiculous that anybody would turn around and try to extort us like this.” The Palmers were unable to remove the negative review and didn’t pay up. KlearGear has since reported them to at least one credit agency, which has in turn negatively impacted the couple’s credit rating.
Consumer rights group Public Citizen has now taken up the couple’s case, demanding a $75,000 fee from KlearGear for filing a false report to credit agencies. “No one would have expected this from doing perfectly normal, everyday and perfectly legal things,” Public Citizen attorney Scott Michelman told ABCNews.
Michelman went on to say that while certain sites and companies do include small print protecting against negative reviews, such terms would be unlikely to hold up in court as customers have no other option than to agree. “They are not negotiated between parties of equal bargaining power. A consumer going to a website to buy a product may not see or read through the terms of service by clicking ‘I agree’,” he said.
KlearGear — which pulls in an annual revenue of around $47 million — has yet to comment on the case and has locked down its Twitter and Facebook accounts in the face of a barrage of criticism. The Non-Disparagement Clause has also been removed from its website.