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Monat hair care company accused of using strong-arm legal tactics to silence critics

Posted at 6:56 PM, Mar 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-19 19:00:39-04

Women across the country say a brand of hair care products that claims to make hair thicker, younger-looking and fuller can actually do just the opposite.

But consumers and stylists who speak out about negative experiences say the manufacturer of Monat is trying to silence them.

This is an investigation that was started by our sister station in Las Vegas, but now a Michigan stylist is being sued in federal court for speaking up about Monat.

“I tried it and I really loved it!  I was like, oh my gosh!  My hair feels really good!  They have a men’s line and a kid’s line so the whole family can use it-- like I was very excited,” said Erin Ostby.  Her excitement quickly faded when she says her hair began falling out after using the product she'd been selling.

“I was crying to my husband, not just over my hair, but what had I done,” said Ostby.

She's what Monat calls a Market Partner-- someone who sells their shampoo and other hair care products on the company's multi-level marketing platform-- mostly through social media.

But the young mother had to walk away from an increasingly lucrative business when she says she could no longer stand by the products.

“I was very nervous to say anything because of the backlash I have seen of other people that spoke out about what was happening,” said Ostby.

In four recently filed class action lawsuits against Monat, the company is accused of using strong-arm legal tactics to silence critics.

“We have to do that to protect ourselves from defamation,” said Monat spokesman Gene Grabowski.

“I was honest in not wanting people to be harmed and I feel like they’re attacking me for wanting to help people,” said Highland Township hair stylist Kayla Baker.  Monat is suing her in federal court, accusing her of defamation.  They’re demanding more than $225,000 in damages because of Baker’s posts on Facebook about what she says are health problems caused by Monat products.

“I kept using it and i noticed immediately my scalp started itching, it was almost like a burning sensation,” said Baker. “My front hair line from side to side actually broke off so I ended up having to get bangs.”  Baker told the 7 Investigators she also got sores on her scalp.

Even though the FDA is now looking at nearly 200 adverse event reports about Monat, the company’s lawyers say there is no scientific basis for Baker’s claims.  But Baker’s attorney is calling the lawsuits like this “extreme.”

“It’s an intimidation tactic that they are trying to come after someone that likely doesn’t have the means or ability to defend this lawsuit just so they can get another notch on their belt,” said attorney Zach Kemp.

Monat would only agree to a phone interview.  The company claims people like Baker engaged in a smear campaign designed to promote competing products.

“When we tried to reason with our attackers, who were bullying people online, bullying some of our market partners, bullying other customers and ridiculing them for using our product.  We had to file a lawsuit to protect ourselves from the attacks,” said Grabowski.

Baker denies that she’s financially motivated to trash Monat online, and she says it’s the Monat market partners who have bullied her.

“I had one messaged me saying I was doing it because I have mental illnesses,” said Baker.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  By the way there is not a constitutional right to complain about a company.  A company has a right to respond any way it wants to,” said Grabowski.

The Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Review Fairness Act "protects consumers' ability to share their honest opinions about a business' products, services or conduct in any forum, including social media."  But that's not enough.  A request for a restraining order against Monat has been filed in south Florida, asking a court to protect consumers against Monat's "threats, harassment and intimidation."

Monat says one stylist has agreed to pay them to settle its claims against her.   We reached out to several Monat users, and those who sell the products, and asked them to talk to us on camera.  They all declined.