LAYTON - A Layton couple filed suit in Utah's federal court on Wednesday against an online retailer that charged them $3,500 for making a negative comment about their customer service.
Their story is also getting a lot of attention across the country.
"CNN, ABC...I'm hearing from all kinds of people lately," said Jen Palmer.
Jen Palmer and her husband John, have suffered a lot from the effects of a recent negative credit report filed by KlearGear, an online retailer based in Michigan.
The Davis County couple never thought a sincere, warranted comment about an online store would generate so much attention - or so much inconvenience.
A few weeks before Christmas back in 2008, John Palmer ordered a small desk toy and key chain from KlearGear, a website based in Michigan. The couple lived in Bountiful at the time.
The order, including shipping — cost less than $20. He paid for it through PayPal.
After the order did not arrive in time for the holiday, John tried calling KlearGear to speak to someone about the problem. His efforts were unsuccessful. After several attempts to contact KlearGear via email, Jen also never received an answer.
A few months later in March 2009, Jen entered a negative review of KlearGear on RipOffReport.com.
More than three years later in May of 2012, John received an email from KlearGear stating that he had violated a "non-disparagement clause" and demanded that he or his wife remove the comment from RipOffReport.com within 72 hours. The email sent from a "KlearGearLegal" address also warned that if the post were not removed immediately, the Palmers would be fined $3500.
Since RipOffReports does not remove posts (except in the case of errors), Jen's comment and negative report stayed there.
Sure enough, a few months later, the Palmer's credit was damaged.
The credit situation made life pretty tough for the Palmers since then. When their furnace failed, they had to wait until they could save enough money to replace it. They have also been unable to get car loans or a new mortgage in order to sell their home or buy another one.
Since their story went viral a few weeks ago, the Palmers have received all kinds of support, including from The Public Citizen Litigation Group, a Washington D.C.-based law firm that specializes in consumer protection cases.
The federal suit filed on Wednesday in Salt Lake City calls for declaratory judgement against KlearGear. It alleges that the company violated the Fair Debt Reporting Act, and accuses the company of defamation. The complaint also asks the court to reward the Palmers punitive damages for reporting an invalid debt and causing them emotional and physical distress.
According to Scott Michelman, the Public Citizen attorney who is representing the Palmers, the "non-disparagement" clause did not exist at the time of John's purchase, nor would it have been legal had it been there 5 year ago.
"It was a sham," Michelman told The Clipper. "That clause wouldn't hold up in court even if it did exist in 2008."
Michelman added, "Ruining a customer's credit in retaliation for a valid opinion is not an acceptable practice."
The Palmers hope to send a message to other businesses who bully customers into paying up or risking credit damage.
"We won't back from a bully," she said.
In the mean time, the Palmers are enjoying an outpouring of support from around the country.
"Ninety-nine point nine percent of the online comments on national websites are supportive," said Palmer. "We're humbled."
When asked if her experience might make her think twice about sharing her opinion about bad business experiences in the future, Jen said, "No. I wouldn't change a thing."
Jen Palmer also said she and her husband live within their means, and only use credit when they have to, for things like homes, cars and emergencies like their broken furnace.
She also said it's important to "Do your homework" before using an online vendor.
The Clipper tried to contact KlearGear for comment, but could only reach a recorded message. A phone number listed on the company website for a media relations representative was disconnected.