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Danny Johnston/AP

General Mills reverses controversial policy restricting consumer lawsuits

The announcement came days after a media backlash, and the company says it's 'sorry we even started down this path'

General Mills has reversed a controversial policy just a few days after posting new restrictions on consumers' ability to sue the food company, a move that stirred a media frenzy after The New York Times first uncovered the legalese.

The reversal, announced in a statement to Al Jazeera, came shortly after the network aired a segment about the issue Saturday. In the General Mills policy posted on its website, the company had said customers who downloaded coupons, joined its online communities or subscribed to email alerts would give up their right to file class-action lawsuits.

"We've reverted back to our prior terms. There's no mention of arbitration, and the provisions we had posted were never enforced. Nor will they be," General Mills told Al Jazeera on Saturday. "We're sorry we even started down this path ... And we do hope you'll accept our apology."

A growing number of companies have adopted similar policies since the 2011 Supreme Court decision, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, that paved the way for businesses to forbid class-action lawsuits with the use of a standard-form contract.

Areva Martin, a lawyer who founded Los Angeles-based firm Martin & Martin LLP, told Al Jazeera she was glad the company — behind brands such as Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Wheaties cereals — responded to criticism.

“I think this has a lot to do with how this caught fire in the media," Martin said. "The tag they put on their website really got the attention of media, got the attention of consumer advocacy groups."

According to the now-defunct policy, General Mills consumers who interacted with the company in any of the outlined ways, would be forced to enter arbitration, should they have had any legal complaints against the company.

General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas told the Times on Thursday that the policy did not mean consumers couldn't proceed with a claim, but that "it merely determine[d] a forum for pursuing a claim."

In 2012, General Mills was sued over claims the company deceived customers into believing its Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot snacks are made with real fruit.

The same year, General Mills was sued over claims of deceptive marketing on its Nature Valley products. The lawsuit alleged that the company claimed the products were "natural" despite containing highly processed ingredients.

Martin, the Los Angeles-based lawyer, praised the pushback, and General Mills' retraction of the policy.

"It speaks to the power of the media and the power of consumers. Kudos to General Mills for thinking very quickly and making the change very quickly."

Al Jazeera

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