Wire Fraud! AT&T Rips Off Customers with Bogus Charges for Wire Protection Plan

North Carolina Class Action Seeks More than $10 Million, End of Improper Charges; Complaint Requests Certification of State and National Classes

Mar 22, 2011, 09:43 ET from Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP

WILMINGTON, N.C., March 22, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Like thousands of other customers across the U.S., 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.

Today Ms. Girton, filed a class action in the U.S. 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."

Gloria Girton and AT&T customers in North Carolina and across the country who do not own their interior phone lines but are forced to pay the phone company for inside wire maintenance are represented in the matter by Steven L. Wittels and Jeremy Heisler of Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP, New York City.

"AT&T is illegally charging many of its land line customers who live in multi-tenant facilities for unnecessary wire insurance," said Mr. Wittels.  "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."

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.

"The company has been on notice since at least 2004 and probably earlier that it is improper to charge tenants of multi-unit buildings these fees," said Mr. Wittels.

Today's 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.

"AT&T's anti-class action arbitration clause is one-sided, harsh and oppressive," said Jeremy Heisler, Plaintiff's Co-Counsel.  "The clause has two unsavory purposes: first, to prevent aggrieved customers from joining with other class members to fight the colossal phone company in court, and second, to allow AT&T to fatten its coffers with millions of dollars of unwarranted fees without fear that customers can win redress in court.  A class action such as this is the only way that consumers with limited financial resources who have suffered relatively small damages can effectively get any justice."

Sanford Wittels & Heisler is partnered in the wire suit with local counsel Gary Jackson of Jackson & McGee, a well-known consumer fraud firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

About SWH

Sanford Wittels & Heisler is a law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco that specializes in employment discrimination, wage and hour, consumer and complex corporate class action litigation and has represented thousands of individuals in some of the major class action cases in the United States. The firm also represents individual clients in employment, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower, public accommodations, commercial, medical malpractice, and personal injury matters.

For more information, contact Jamie Moss, 201-493-1027, newsPRos, jamie@newspros.com

SOURCE Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP