Verizon's Mediation Process

A tipster recommends Verizon’s mediation process for untangling especially messy problems. Verizon charged our tipster $300 per month for overages beyond 450 minutes, despite assurances she was on a plan with 1,000 minutes. Though Verizon promised to resolve the problem, our tipster’s service was disconnected while she was traveling on business. When further calls failed to resolve the situation, our customer invoked Verizon’s mediation process. According to Verizon’s FAQs:

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process in which a neutral third person (a mediator) aids the parties in jointly resolving their dispute. Unlike arbitration, a mediator does not decide the dispute for the parties. Instead, he or she helps the parties resolve it themselves (usually in a form that will be final and binding). Nothing said in the mediation can be used in a later arbitration or lawsuit.

Our tipster and Verizon jointly resolve their dispute, after the jump…

UPDATE: Our tipster says, “Verizon employees commit sales fraud, then proceed with stonewalling tactics to avoid resolution. They eventually agree on a settlement but then withdraw it because I won’t sign a ‘gag clause’.” More on this inside.


It took Verizon more than one month to respond to our tipster’s mediation request. When they did, a session was arranged with a Verizon lawyer and a Verizon employee, who acted as the mediator.

We have a particular image of a Verizon lawyer, but we were wrong. Verizon agreed to reverse all erroneous charges – almost $2,000, cancel one of six lines without an ETF, and allow the contract to expire almost one year early. Those are the exemplary results we expect only from executive support.

Our tipster’s email below.

•My conflict with verizon started in August 06 when my sister and I came in to a store looking to add 2 lines to her existing family plan (for a total of 6 lines). The sales rep said they could do this by having 1 line added to her plan, and creating a new account with 1 line and minimal minutes. They said they would merge these two accounts once we signed the contracts.

•This never happened – thus my 1000+minute usage had my 450 minute individual plan racking up $300+ in charges each month.

•After stonewalling from the store manager and local store rep, I spoke with a regional store manager (Mario Turco) in early October. He promised the world to get things fixed, but would never follow up or reply to any emails to document his promises.

•Early November I was leaving for a 3 week business trip and received notice they were going to suspend my phone service for non payment. Multiple calls and emails to Mario and his subordinates were ignored. After leaving for the trip, he finally returned my call and verbally assured me I would not lose my service while traveling.

•Two weeks later, without warning, my service was suspended while 1000 miles from home and relying on the phone for my sales for my business. This occurred on a Saturday so there was no one available at Verizon until Monday authorized to remove the suspension.

•Upon returning home early December 06, I received several phone based promises from Mario but he refused to email me anything in writing so I could review how he was going to fix things. He and subordinate repeatedly pressured me to give social security numbers so they could authorize changes on the account.

•Based on the Verizon customer agreement – I sought information on the Mediation program that is detailed in the agreement. I called Dec 1st to Verizon Customer service and spent 40 minutes on the phone without any representative capable of telling me information or documentation on their mediation program.

•A rep eventually called me back and directed me to a mediation request form on their website to initiate a complaint. I filled it out and sent it in Dec 4th. I was told the process would start within 30 days.

•I received no response or acknowledgement from Verizon for several weeks. Finally faxed an angry letter and received a response form a L. Lane-Turner in executive relations. She said the address on the form was old and would not be acknowledge as received until Dec 16th. She fedex’ed me a written assurance my account would not be suspended again, and that I’d hear about the mediation process within 30 days.

•Well over 40 days passed without contact from Verizon. I once again initiated contact to bug them on following through on the mediation.

•After more delays, I finally had a mediation session scheduled with a Rynae Benson (mediator/paralegal for Verizon) and a lawyer/rep for Verizon, Monica Harper. Monica apologized profusely (generically) for all the trouble, without admitting specific faults or causes of fraud. Said their employees would be ‘counseled’ on their mistakes.

•Presently have negotiated a $2000+ credit to zero out my individual account, while merging it to my sister’s account (while having to drop an little-used line from the master account with no ETF). Also the contract will terminate in one year 8-07 instead of 2 years.

•I really haven’t come out ahead except for maybe $200 in fees – since if their fraudulent sales person hadn’t lied in the first place, I would have avoided hours of time on calls to CSR’s and documenting/emailing people.

Mediators are supposed to be neutral, impartial facilitators. Not Verizon employees. Though with results like these, we won’t complain. Has anyone mediated their dispute with a corporation? Tell us about it in the comments. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

UPDATE: Our reader writes again:

Verizon employees commit sales fraud, then proceed with stonewalling tactics to avoid resolution. They eventually agree on a settlement but then withdraw it because I won’t sign a ‘gag clause’.

Thanks for posting my note about my mediation progress on Saturday. Unfortunately, Verizon Wireless’ representative, Monica Harper, added a non-disclosure requirement that was not part of the original agreement. Please let your readers know that the $2000+ settlement amount is misleading as far as any generosity on their part. It is merely a credit against charges we never agreed to.

Back in August 06 VZW Store sales representatives lied and committed fraud to get contracts signed at their store, resulting in this ridiculous bill. For the past 7 months, we dealt with stonewalling from their sales staff, management and their district manager. Lies from their district manager resulted in my phone being shut off during an important business trip. I documented and recorded dozens of unreturned emails, phone calls and several conversations with CSRs and management.

The $2000+ they want to stick me with is the result of a fraudulent sales trasaction. The settlement I agreed to represented approximately $60 in revenue that they actually took a loss on had their sales staff been trained to be honest. I received a generic apology and assurance their employees would be ‘counselled’. Does anyone believe VZW is motivated to keep their sales staff honest if they’re still haven’t settled this after seven months?

By the way, to read about Andy Wilt’s experience with ‘fair dealing’ from this company representative, google /Monica Harper Verizon/.

Here’s the email trail from the mediation settlement efforts:

Feb 21st
R–, I’m attaching a short release for your review and signature. Since we will be making changes to Account No. 9XXXXXX, I will need M– to also sign the document since the account is in her name. Please review and let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Very truly yours,

Rynae Benson

___________________________________
GENERAL RELEASE AND COVENANT NOT TO SUE

In consideration of (1) waiving balance of $2,141.25 on Account No. 3XXXXXXXX through January billing, (2) waiving February bill balance (not yet billed) on Account No. 3XXXXXXX, (3) terminating service for mobile number XXX-XXX-XXXX on Account No. 9XXXXXXX, (4) waiving early termination fee for termination of mobile number XXX-XXX-XXXX on Account No. 9XXXXXXX, (5) transferring mobile number XXX-XXX-XXXX from Account No. 3XXXXXXXX to Account No. 9XXXXXXX, and (6) Adjust contract dates for all mobile numbers on Account No. 9XXXXXXX, including the transferred mobile number XXX-XXX-XXXX, to end on August 30, 2007, by Cellco Partnership dba Verizon Wireless, I, R–, hereby release and forever discharge Verizon Wireless, and its assigns, successors, affiliates, parent companies, subsidiaries, branches, employees, officers, directors or agents, from all claims, rights, and liabilities of any nature, including, but not limited to, all actions, causes of action, damages, punitive damages, suits, debts, charges, sums of money, attorneys’ fees, costs, accounts, covenants, controversies, agreements, promises, penalties, grievances, arbitrations, forfeitures, liens, and demands whatsoever, known or unknown, at law or in equity, by contract (express or implied), tort, pursuant to statute, or otherwise, that I now have, ever had, or will ever have based on, by reason of or arising out of any event, occurrence, action, inaction, transaction or thing of any kind or nature occurring prior to or on the date this General Release and Covenant Not to Sue is executed, including, but not limited to, any and all claims relating to Account Nos. 9XXXXXXX and 3XXXXXXX. Further, I hereby agree that I will not institute any suit or action at law or otherwise against Verizon Wireless, its assigns, successors, affiliates, parent companies, subsidiaries, branches, employees, officers, directors or agents relating to Account Nos. 9XXXXXXXX and 3XXXXXXXXX.

It is understood that the consideration herein stated is not an admission of liability by Verizon Wireless but that it is in settlement of a disputed claim and that liability is expressly denied by Verizon Wireless. I agree not to disclose the terms and conditions of this General Release and Covenant Not to Sue to any other party or parties without the written consent of Verizon Wireless.

__________________________
R—
I hereby authorize all changes to Account No. 9XXXXXXXX as reflected in this document.

_________________________
M—

##################
Response Feb 22nd

Rynae-
In our discussions during mediation, conditions of non-disclosure were not brought up. This has now been added to the agreement. I do not have a problem signing a ‘covenant not to sue’ agreement as part of this mediation. During the mediation process, I sought financial compensation for the lost time and business that was caused by your employee’s misbehavior. Because this was denied, I will not sign anything that may restrict my ability to publicize my experience with media, websites or government agencies.
Please amend this release so the non disclosure conditions are removed and we’ll both sign and submit this.

Regards,

R–
################
Follow up Feb 26th

Hi Rynae-
I just left a voice mail for you regarding the mediation process that was being conducted with Verizon Wireless over the past couple weeks. I sent the following message last week and received no response. Please respond via email or contact me at XXX-XXX-XXXX with an update.

Regards,

R–
################
Feb 26th

R– – I have forwarded your concerns about the Settlement Agreement to Monica. I will follow up with her tomorrow to see if we can come to a resolution.

Rynae Benson

###############
Feb 27th

R– – I would like to schedule a follow up call so we can discuss the settlement agreement. Monica is representing VZW in this matter and would be the person who can answer any questions and discuss the non-disclosure piece of the agreement. Let me know your availability so I can schedule a quick 15 minute call.

##############
Feb 27th

Rynae-
I would prefer if we can continue to communicate via email concerning this agreement. Can Monica please send a written explanation for this non-disclosure requirement?

Regards,

R–

##############
Patiently waitied for any response until Mar 6th

Rynae,
I have been waiting almost 2 weeks for a written response concerning the non-disclosure clause that was added to the mediation agreement. Can you please confer with Monica Harper and offer a prompt written response? I have entered into this mediation process in good faith and have been more than patient with these delays. I left a voicemail at your office as well in an effort to receive a follow up.

Regards,

R–

###############
Mar 7th – a response from Monica

R–:
You recently participated in Verizon Wireless’ mediation program in an effort to settle a dispute. As part of the proposed resolution, we require the execution of a general release, which includes a confidentiality provision. The purpose of the release and this provision is to ensure that the parties have fully and finally resolved their dispute. Confidentiality provisions are typical in such settings and without such a provision here, Verizon Wireless lacks the finality it sought to obtain through the settlement. If you have any further questions, I can be reached at 240-568-2484.

Thank you,
Monica Harper
240-568-2484

#############
Mar 7th response – I had received a similar ‘close of business’ deadline from them during mediation negotiations, so I returned the favor.
Monica-
If this confidentiality provision is a requirement of this settlement, it should have been brought up during the mediation. You have modified our agreement by adding a new condition – requiring my silence about details of my poor customer experience with VZW . If you now wish to withdraw the offer to settle that was originally agreed to on February 20th, please indicate so by close of business March 8th.

Regards,

R–

###############
No response from Monica or Rynae – left a voicemail for Rynae and then sent Mar 9th:

Rynae,
Please let me know whether this mediation process is being terminated by Verizon Wireless.

Regards,

R–

###########
No responses at all since – To avoid any further delays and stonewalling, I’m going to initiate the arbitration process this week rather than wait for more silence.

It appears they would rather pay arbitration and labor costs than see my experience publicized. I hope this article gets Dugg’ed and they lose more customers and respect. Exposure may be the only way to get some sense of recourse for their fraudulent behavior.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the arbitration proceedings.

Comments

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  1. Aston14 says:

    I am glad that mediation worked well in this case, but I am against it in general. Basically, when you sign your cell phone or credit card contract, you agree not to sue or join a class action case against the company, and instead are forced into mediation (a nonbinding mediator) or arbitration (a binding mediator). It has the potential to be rife with corruption. I hope this case is more typical of Verizon’s mediation cases, but I would still prefer that they did not force their customers to avoid the court system and have mediation instead. Mediation can be a great tool, but it should be the consumer who decides where the conflict should be resolved, not the company.

  2. ideagirl says:

    My understanding of this iss ue (in the state of California, anyway), is that companies can’t force you to sign away your right to the state legal process by adding arbitration clauses to the contracts. That is, they an add them, but it is not binding in the state of California.

    There is a bit about this here:

    http://www.consumer-action.org/archives/English/PressRelea

  3. Aston14 says:

    It really is dependent on the state, still, not all consumers may be aware of their legal rights. And let’s face it, cell phone companies are not known for making consumers rights entirely clear.
    I wonder if other states have similar laws?

  4. magic8ball says:

    I actually had a similar agreement with my doctor’s office in Utah. I showed up for an appointment one day, and they told me I had to sign an arbitration agreement before they would treat me. A court later determined that it’s illegal for doctors to do that, which makes me wonder whether a similar legal challenge would work against Verizon et al.

  5. humphrmi says:

    Usually these clauses include outs, worded vaguely enough to make you think it doesn’t apply to you like “Except where prohibited by law…” I asked an attorney once, he was kind of drunk at the time (friend’s party, long story) but he said that legislation that gives you *rights* can be waived, but legislation that gives you *protection* cannot. Ah, but he was drunk at the time. :)

  6. verizon-mediation says:

    Submitter here – an update…

    Sorry to send disappointing news, but yes – an agreement was made through the Verizon mediator, but then they added a new condition to the deal – a ‘gag rule’ to the written agreement that I couldn’t discuss the settlement with the press or legistlators, etc. I asked to them to redact that gag rule and they refused.

    Will email a full update to the editor to detail the email communications that took place.

  7. Helvetian says:

    Sounds strange the “neutral” mediator was a VZW employee. I would prefer an actual neutral source or insist my best friend be the “neutral” mediator lol

  8. bravo says:

    verizon-mediator:
    just spill your guts about the whole ordeal right now and then sign the agreement tomorrow

  9. verizon-mediation says:

    @ Bravo-
    Already sent in to tips@consumerist the whole sordid ordeal.

    Making an agreement and then altering it after the fact for their advantage. – They are at least consistent with their sales staff and executive relations team.

    To read about someone else’s dealings with verizon staff:

    google ‘monica harper verizon’

    Being able to publicize this stuff is the only way to establish a pattern of behavior. I opened a case with the AG and will be informing them of this broken deal as well.