When Nadiya Oliver decided to blog about her horrible experience with a California fertility clinic, the company accused her of defamation and threatened a "multi-million dollar lawsuit."
The New Jersey resident fought back — and won.
New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs on Wednesday announced that Fertility Bridges Inc. had agreed to remove a clause from its contracts that bars customers from writing negative online reviews and threatens a $10,000-a-day fine if they do.
Coincidentally, on the same day last month that New Jersey filed the agreement, President Obama signed a new law, the Consumer Review Fairness Act, that makes such "gag order" clauses illegal and unenforceable.
The federal law was inspired by cases over the last few years in which companies attempted to stifle unflattering reviews with gag clauses and the specter of legal action and financial damages.
"Customers have a right to complain publicly about what they feel are substandard services," Porrino said in a news release. "This consent order, along with the just-signed federal law, reaffirms that right."
Fertility Bridge, with offices in Illinois and California, also agreed to pay a $1,500 fine. Its attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
In her blog post, Oliver explained that she and her husband turned to Fertility Bridge and other online agencies in 2015 in their quest to find an egg donor.
"Finding the right egg donor to help you start your family is harder than finding a needle in a haystack," she wrote of their year-long search.
After she and her husband identified a seemingly ideal candidate on the Fertility Bridge website, they got confirmation from the company that the potential donor had signed on. The couple made a hefty payment that was supposed to be refunded if the donor reneged.
As soon as the couple's check cleared, Fertility Bridges said the donor was unwilling to proceed, without providing a reason. The agency offered other, more-expensive prospective egg providers, and refused a refund.
Oliver responded by filing a complaint in September 2015 with the Better Business Bureau, which led to the investigation by the Division of Consumer Affairs.
A Fertility Bridge administrator immediately sent "a bizarre response stating that my husband and I were trying to illegally buy human tissue and that we were going to be met with a 'multi-million dollar lawsuit' for defaming the company," Oliver wrote in her blog post.
She also turned to the venerable consumer advocacy group Public Citizen for guidance about putting a public statement online. Public Citizen wrote a letter on her behalf to Fertility Bridges, attaching a copy of the planned blog post as a courtesy.
"We received a series of fulminating responses," Public Citizen lawyer Paul Alan Levy wrote on the group's website.
In the end, Levy said, it became clear that Fertility Bridge's threats of legal action were "pure bluster" designed to intimidate and suppress Oliver.
She's had the last word.
"Couples searching to match with an egg donor have already suffered physically, emotionally, and financially," she wrote. "We received nothing in exchange for the money we paid, except for a tremendous amount of stress and lost time. No good could ever come from feeling victimized and being silent about it."