Consumer protection fund greenlights six research projects

Credit card and laptop

Six grants totaling more than $92,000 will allow several University of Oregon researchers to study a range of topics aimed at helping protect consumers.

The research funding came about through a 2014 jury trial involving the oil giant BP. The lawsuit resulted in 1.7 million people, mostly in Oregon, receiving settlement checks.

The recipients had been charged unauthorized fees when they used debit cards to pay for gas at the company’s ARCO and ARCO am/pm gas stations between January 2011 and August 2013.

However, $162 million was left unclaimed because hundreds of thousands of cards could not be traced to their owners. The court was then tasked with distributing the remaining funds for “purposes directly related to the class action or directly beneficial to the interests of class members.” The court awarded a minimum of $300,000 per year for 10 years to the UO to research consumer issues in Oregon.

The submissions were reviewed by a committee made up of UO faculty members and community leaders appointed by Oregon Consumer Justice, the consumer advocacy nonprofit established with half of the unclaimed settlement proceeds. The other half of unclaimed settlement proceeds were awarded to Legal Aid Services of Oregon.

The following grants were approved:

“Saving Black Portland: Reimaging Urban Redevelopment as a Tool for Black Economic Empowerment”
Angela Addae, assistant professor of law, School of Law
From Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Portland, Oregon, coalitions of Black businesses, also known as “Black Wall Streets,” have long endured racial terrorism, destruction, and displacement. The research will examine the historical and contemporary effects of urban redevelopment on Black businesses in Portland.

“Charitable Giving and Decision Making”
Ashley Angulo, assistant professor of marketing, Lundquist College of Business
Samuel Park, doctoral student in marketing, Lundquist College of Business
When charities make requests via email, flyers, or campaigns, they often add numerical content, presumably because it communicates their need, what can be accomplished with the funds, or how many people would be aided with the contribution. This research will test consumer behavior and charitable giving decision-making at the individual consumer level.

“Whose Consumer Complaints are Taken Seriously?”
Sanjay Srivastava, professor, Department of Psychology
Bradley Hughes, doctoral student, Department of Psychology
A growing body of research suggests that in a variety of interpersonal settings, people may be stereotyped and treated differently as a function of their socioeconomic status. This research will test if the stereotypes based on socioeconomic status shape the responses Oregonians receive when they talk about their experiences as consumers.

“Toward a Comprehensive Data Privacy Law for Oregonians”
Bryce Clayton Newell, assistant professor of media law and policy, School of Journalism and Communication
In the last few years, the United States has seen a renewed push toward enacting more comprehensive forms of consumer and data privacy legislation. This research will be focused on data privacy legislation in the United States and in Europe.

“Law Reform to Protect Low-Income and BIPOC Consumers in Oregon”
Tom Lininger, Orlando John and Marian H. Hollis Professor of Law, School of Law
Revising attorneys’ ethical codes is a new frontier for consumer protection. The first project will focus on the rules of evidence governing evidentiary privileges and impeachment of witnesses -- which currently do not adequately protect low-income and BIPOC communities in Oregon and throughout the U.S. The second project will examine lawyers’ involvement in clients’ mistreatment of consumers, especially those who are historically marginalized. 

“Feeling Watched: How Customers Respond when Tip Selections are Visible to Employees and Other Patrons”
Nathan Warren, doctoral candidate, Department of Marketing, Lundquist College of Business;
Hong Yuan, Robert P. Booth Associate Professor of Marketing, Lundquist College of Business
Where customers previously may have left a small amount of change in a jar or not even known that tipping was an option, customers today are frequently prompted to select a tip amount on a digital screen. Importantly, these new digital tipping screens are often mounted so that they may be observed, or at least customers may feel they are being observed. This research will help understand how the increasing observability of tip selections is affecting consumers.

The committee will be releasing another request for proposals to UO researchers later this fall.  Questions about the Consumer Protection Research Fund, application or submission process can be directed to law professor Liz Tippett, the committee chair, at tippett@uoregon.edu.