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Pennsylvania Consumer Rights Blog

BigLaw attorney disbarred for collecting outside client fees

Can an attorney be disbarred for handling outside cases when employed by a law firm? It depends on what their employment contract with the law firm says, according to the Washington Supreme Court and that state bar's Office of Disciplinary Counsel. And, if that employment contract prohibits the lawyer from handling outside cases, accepting fees for those cases constitutes theft.

An attorney who worked at the international law firms Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., has been disbarred for performing legal work for outside clients and keeping the fees instead of handing them over to her employers. According to the Washington Supreme Court, doing so constituted theft. She denies the allegations and considers the issue a contract dispute which should not have gotten her disbarred.

CFPB may issue record fine against Wells Fargo over sales abuses

In the first penalty issued under the Trump administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking a record penalty against Wells Fargo & Co. The fine, which could exceed hundreds of millions of dollars, is in regard to abuses in Wells Fargo's auto insurance and mortgage lending areas.

Working with Wells' main regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, the CFPB plans to sanction the banking giant for forcing some customers to buy unneeded auto insurance called "force-place" insurance -- and collected commissions on it.

Is your product's warranty void if you try to fix it yourself?

We've all seen the tags and stickers manufacturers put on products that say, "void if removed." Or, the warning may indicate that the warranty is no good if you try to repair the product yourself, or if you use parts from another manufacturer. Warranties can be limited in many ways, but those limitations are illegal -- and now the Federal Trade Commission is stepping in.

As we've discussed before on this blog, warranties are regulated by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which is enforced by the FTC. That law prohibits manufacturers from making their warranties conditional on consumers using only that manufacturer's parts or services for repairs or routine maintenance.

Barclays settles US mortgage fraud complaint for $2 billion

The British bank Barclays is just the latest big bank to settle mortgage fraud allegations with the U.S. government over its role in the subprime mortgage and subsequent foreclosure crisis. It has recently agreed to pay $2 billion in civil penalties in order to settle a 2016 federal lawsuit alleging that Barclays:

  • Sold fraudulent mortgage-backed securities between 2005 and 2007
  • Misled investors about the quality of the underlying mortgages in those securities

Is my warranty void if someone other than dealer repairs my car?

It's a great feeling when your car is under warranty. A warranty is a manufacturer's promise to stand behind its product -- or as much of it is covered by the warranty. Vehicle warranties are often limited to the power train or limited in other ways.

One limitation automakers can't place on their warranty is a restriction on who can perform any needed repairs. Attempting to void a warranty or deny coverage because someone other than the dealer performed the repairs is illegal under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Any shop or mechanic -- or you -- can perform routine maintenance and repairs on your vehicle without voiding the warranty.

Lawsuit: 6 hotel chains conspired to eliminate competing web ads

A proposed federal class action claims that six top hotel chains are entering into an illegal anti-competitive agreement. In 2015, the lawsuit says, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott Wyndham, InterContinental and Choice Hotels agreed not to compete with each other in online keyword-based advertising. The scheme was deceptive and created an unlawful restraint on trade, the suit claims.

The six chains operate some of the best-known hotels and motels in the U.S., including Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, Park Hyatt, Holiday Inn and Travelodge. The alleged scheme affected some 60 percent of all hotel inventory in the U.S. The alleged misconduct may have affected any consumer who booked a hotel or motel room between 2015 and 2017.

Facebook sued for allowing discriminatory housing advertising

In October 2016, the nonprofit investigative journal ProPublica published a blockbuster exposé about housing advertisements on Facebook. Advertisers could tailor their ads to exclude people based on race, gender and other factors that are illegal under the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing.

The National Fair Housing Alliance promptly sent a letter to Facebook asking the platform to address the issue. In November 2016, Facebook agreed to disable advertisers' ability to use "ethnic affinity marketing" to target ads for housing or credit. In early 2017, Facebook said its policies forbid discriminatory content in any ad.

Report: Official misconduct occurred in most of 2017 exonerations

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, at least 139 people were exonerated in 2017. These innocent people spent an average of 10.6 years behind bars before their wrongful convictions were overturned. Why are there so many and what do we know about these wrongful convictions?

One reason there are so many exonerations is that there are dedicated groups investigating questionable convictions and challenging them. These professional exonerators include about 52 organizations like the Innocence Project. They also include conviction integrity units at prosecutors' offices, which is a growing trend. According to the Registry, there are now about 33 such units tasked with reviewing the work of other prosecutors.

Stores keep track of your returns, database flags them for fraud

Consumers and consumer advocates have been stunned to learn of a database that tracks shoppers' returns and flags people as potential fraudsters. The Retail Equation's database, which is used by stores such as Best Buy, The Home Depot and Victoria's Secret, claims to predict who is making fraudulent or abusive returns. Unfortunately, there appears to be no mechanism for appeal.

Jake Z. told the Wall Street Journal that he was flagged when he returned three cellphone cases to a Best Buy store. They were gifts for his sons, so he had bought a variety of colors and planned to return the colors his sons didn't pick. The return totaled $87.43.

Whistleblower: Walmart cut corners for market share and fired me

A former Walmart business development director has filed a federal lawsuit against the retail giant. He claims that Walmart betrayed founder Sam Walton's principles of honesty and integrity -- and may have violated the law -- by pushing for "meteoric growth" in their e-commerce business. When the executive pointed out the wrongdoing, he says, he was fired.

A spokesperson for Walmart claimed the allegations were merely the statements of a disgruntled former employee. The spokesperson said the business development director had been let go during a business restructuring. He also said the company had investigated the former executive's complaint at the time and found no suggestion of impropriety.

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