CenturyLink's alleged lack of integrity leads to several lawsuits
CenturyLink faces two class action lawsuits related to allegations of ripping off customers just a few days after being sued by a former employee for wrongful termination for complaining to her superiors that the company forced employees to rip off customers. The class action lawsuits were apparently triggered by the news earlier this week that Heidi Heiser sued CenturyLink for wrongful termination in Maricopa County Superior Court, Arizona.
In the Arizona case, Ms. Heiser states that she worked from her home as a customer service and sales representative for CenturyLink between August 2015 and October 2016. She alleges that she was terminated after informing the CenturyLink CEO that CenturyLink was bilking customers out of millions of dollars through unauthorized charges. Ms. Heiser has compared CenturyLink's activities to the the activities of Wells Fargo that led to a $185 million dollar fine for charging customers for unauthorized accounts.
Apparently, some class actions lawyers read the news about Ms. Heiser's lawsuit and saw an opportunity to ride on Ms. Heiser's inside knowledge about CenturyLink. Within a short while after the news broke about Ms. Heiser, class action lawsuits had been filed in Oregon and California against CenturyLink. According to the complaint I read from California, Craig McLeod, et al. v. CenturyLink, Inc., et al, Case 2:17-cv-04504-SJO-PLA (U.S.D.C. C.D.CA), the plaintiffs are generally alleging that they are being charged more than what they agreed to over the telephone with a CenturyLink representative. This dovetails nicely with Ms. Heiser's allegations as well as the tons of poor customer reviews all over the internet.
I am not surprised that CenturyLink is under fire for the way that their customer service treats employees. As noted earlier this year, complaints about utility companies, such as CenturyLink generated the second largest number of consumer complaints in Colorado last year. Moreover, during my time with the Wyoming Attorney General's Office, I saw many consumer complaints against CenturyLink. Interestingly, the Wyoming branch office of CenturyLink did a good job of resolving individual consumer complaints when brought to its attention.
There are some challenges to the class action lawsuits. Foremost in my mind is that I believe that the small print found in the CenturyLink contracts have class action waivers and arbitration clauses written into them. It will be interesting to see if that stalls out the case or if the plaintiffs can show that those clauses should be avoided for fraud. The complaints are filed in Oregon and California, which might also provide some helpful law on the waiver and arbitration issues.
Taking a step back and looking at the larger picture, I think that the large phone, internet, satellite and cable companies, like CenturyLink all face the same problem. They try to aggressively increase and hold on to their customer base in a highly competitive environment, while at the same time limiting the resources that they devote to customer service. At best, their customer service is mediocre, and at worst, nightmarish. Even if Ms. Heiser's allegations are false, the perception among the general public is that CenturyLink lacks integrity and will lie and cheat to get customer dollars. To thrive in today's "check the reviews" obsessive culture a company has to do more than pay lip service to integrity. Integrity has to be front and center and comprehensively guide the company operations.