SmileDirectClub, a mail-order orthodontic provider that sells cheap teeth aligners online, has agreed to release 17,000 US customers dissatisfied with its service from nondisclosure agreements that prohibited them from leaving negative reviews as part of a settlement with the District of Columbia’s attorney general. Announced on Thursday, the settlement requires SmileDirectClub to make changes to the company’s refund guarantee policy and inform customers who had signed such NDAs that they were now free to discuss their experiences.
A report from The New York Times back in 2020 revealed that SmileDirectClub had asked customers requesting a refund beyond the company’s 30-day guarantee policy to sign an NDA promising that they “will not make, publish, or communicate any statements or opinions” about SmileDirectClub’s employees, officers, directors, products, or services that make them look bad.
“The company silenced dissatisfied consumers and buried complaints about injuries caused by its products”
“SmileDirectClub promised a simple, safe, and affordable way to straighten teeth and touted five-star reviews,” said Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb in a statement. “But behind the scenes, the company silenced dissatisfied consumers and buried complaints about injuries caused by its products.”
SmileDirectClub is also required to pay $500,000 for violating DC consumer protection laws under the settlement, though the company denies having violated any laws or engaged in any deceptive or unfair practices within the document. In its own statement addressing the verdict, SmileDirectClub claims that it had based its release form on one “historically used in the industry” and that the company already had plans to “tailor the non-disclosure provision more narrowly.” According to SmileDirectClub, the litigation “gave the Company an opportunity to address both that campaign and the lawsuit at the same time.”