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Suit Claims CenturyLink Pulled a Wells Fargo

Carol Wilson
6/16/2017
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A lawsuit alleging CenturyLink fired a former employee because she told its CEO that customers were being falsely charged for accounts they didn't open is already having impact on the company's stock.

CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) stock dropped almost 8% in the wake of the lawsuit, which also claims the company put pressure on sales personnel to rack up new service sales, leading them to falsely open new accounts that weren't authorized by clients, similar to the scheme uncovered at Wells Fargo last year.

CenturyLink acquisition target Level 3 Communications also saw its stock suddenly drop, although both stocks regained about half their losses in afternoon trading.

CenturyLink is saying it is taking the charges seriously and investigating the claims by former employee Heidi Heiser. In a statement emailed to Light Reading, spokesman Mark Molzen points out, however, that the company maintains an "integrity line" for employees to report any issues and Heiser did not use it.

"CenturyLink holds itself and its employees to the highest ethical standards and does not condone any type of unethical behavior," Molzen said in his statement. "The allegations made by our former employee are completely inconsistent with our company policies, culture and Unifying Principles, which include honesty and integrity. Should an employee have any concerns about ethics or compliance issues, we have an Integrity Line in place, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This employee did not make a report to the Integrity Line and our leadership team was not aware of this matter until the lawsuit was filed. We take these allegations seriously and are diligently investigating this matter."

The issue for CenturyLink could be whether the lawsuit leads to further investigation of its sales practices. Heiser claims she was fired two days after she used a companywide Q&A session over an internal messaging system to alert CenturyLink Chairman and CEO Glen Post to what she says was widespread activity by sales associates to falsely claim customers had authorized new services in order to meet sales goals/incentives.

Heiser's lawsuit claims the company was charging "many millions" of dollars in unauthorized charges, according to this Bloomberg News account. It doesn't say how she knew of that volume, as someone who worked from home for CenturyLink for a little more than a year. Heiser's lawsuit also says she reported the issues to her supervisors, who essentially ignored the complaints, and adds that a malfunctioning call distribution system led to dropped calls on her watch, for which she was held responsible. Those calls were given as the cause of her firing.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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VDozier
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VDozier,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/25/2017 | 1:33:09 AM
Yeah, CenturyLink is terrible
At a conference, I met a manager on the Public Utilities Commission. At the conference, she shared that she was having trouble with her home internet- CenturyLink's Gigabit Fiber.  This is the extremely heavily-advertised service, which is only in available about 5 sqare acres of land in our state.

So the speeds were not anything near what they were advertising.  Nearly 30-40% off.  When she called for assistance, CenturyLink told her it'd be $40 for a trip-charge; and it'd take two weeks.  When she wasn't satisfied with the response, Centurylink phone rep then asked her to file a complaint with the PUC; and even offered a web address to complain.  She was actually quite baffled at CenturyLink's response to getting her internet to connect at the advertised speeds.   As part of training its employees, CenturyLink will try to pass the buck; and actively tell customers people how to file a complaint instead of fixing the issue or escalating.

So, she gave me her business card.  Later, I called her.  I asked her if instead of waiting for complaints to be filed, I suggested that the office go on twitter, and ask complaining customers if the PUC can also help file a complaint.  Because these days, people spend energy complaining on twitter hoping to provide a poor reviews, but PUC exists to recover real money from customers and also categorize complaints for repeat offenses.  She thought this was a great idea.  Because this is occuring in Washington State, perhaps the PUC could also start soliciting PUC complaints from twitter.

 

But when it comes to incorrect billing, this absolutely occurs...!   Another friend recently moved.  I looked at his CenturyLink bill, CenturyLink had added business-class internet, a 1-800 number as well.  He must have had those services for over 2 or 3 years.  He didn't even know the rate for the 1-800 calls.  We setup Comcast instead-- Comcast started offering 2GB service in the area.

There's a saying I learned while working at a landline provider- it's something like this- "We work in communications, but most of us don't know how to communicate".   But it absolutely breaks my heart to see elderly folks talken advantage of.  I don't think I can ever trust a landline provider.
Phil_Britt
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Phil_Britt,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/23/2017 | 8:10:29 PM
Re: Before lawsuit
Theoretically, the company should hear this before a lawsuit. But the people opening the accounts could have been under the same pressure as those at Wells Fargo -- and the Wells Fargo case still could cause some more heads to roll, several months after the practices were stopped.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/17/2017 | 12:36:44 PM
Before lawsuit
One would think the company would be hearing about these kinds of things before a lawsuit was filed. 

This must have seemed like a smack in the face - a surprise, to say the least. 
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