Wilmington, NC: Like thousands of other customers across the US, Gloria Girton pays AT&T nearly $120 every year for a service she doesn't need and can't use.
The 82-year old Wilmington apartment dweller is billed $9.99 every month by the corporate giant for an "Inside Wire Protection Plan" even though a landlord owns her building's interior telephone wires and she has no legal responsibility for maintaining them.
Consequently, Ms. Girton has filed a class action in the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to end AT&T's unlawful practice of wrongfully billing for such plans nationwide. Outside of North Carolina, they are known by such names as "Wire Pro," "Inside Wire Maintenance," and "Home Wire Protection."
AT&T is illegally charging many of its land line customers who live in multi-tenant facilities for unnecessary wire insurance, the plaintiff's lawyers state. "The company knows from prior litigation and its own internal investigations that this charge is improper, yet it continues to charge building tenants like Gloria for these worthless plans through deceptive sales actions that defraud and rob them of their hard-earned financial resources. We believe she and the class have sustained damages of at least $10 million and very likely much more," says plaintiff's counsel.
The complaint asks for the certification of two classes, a North Carolina class and a nationwide class, each comprised of all residents of residential or commercial property who had an AT&T account at any time in the past four years and were not responsible for the maintenance of their residence's interior wire, but were charged a fee for an Inside Wire plan.
The complaint names AT&T, a Delaware corporation, along with ten of its unnamed U.S. subsidiaries as defendants. AT&T is a national telephone and internet service provider with more than $48 billion in annual revenues.
According to the plaintiffs' legal team, the company's deceptive actions in marketing and selling interior wire maintenance plans are particularly egregious because seven years ago, AT&T reached a Court-approved settlement in California that challenged the company's assessment of wire protection fees to multi-unit apartment dwellers like Gloria Girton.
This latest filing also attacks arbitration provisions in customers' contracts that forbid class certification against AT&T. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that such a provision is procedurally and substantively unconscionable and should not be enforced.