Last week, we brought you the story of former Comcast customer Conal O’Rourke, who lost his job at renowned accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers after someone from Comcast called his employer with details of Mr. O’Rourke’s numerous — and valid — complaints about his cable service. Comcast has subsequently apologized for the myriad billing and service problems but maintains it did not intend to have O’Rourke fired, but that has not satisfied Conal, who has filed a lawsuit against the nation’s largest cable company, alleging violations of, among other claims, a federal law prohibiting cable companies from sharing personal information without customers’ consent.
The complaint [PDF], filed in a U.S. District Court in San Jose, CA, on Thursday, accuses Comcast of violating the Cable Communications Policy Act, defamation, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and unfair business practices.
“Mr. O’Rourke’s story is both simple and chilling,” reads the complaint.
For those coming late to this story, here’s the brief rundown.
In early 2013, Conal became a customer of Comcast. From the start, he claims the company failed to provide service at the promised promotional price. Multiple promises to resolve the over-billing resulted in only continued inaccurate invoices, even after meeting with Comcast staff in person and presenting them with detailed breakdowns of every charge and credit associated with his account.
It eventually got so bad that Conal says Comcast sent and billed him for $1,820 worth of equipment he never requested and did not need.
Exasperated with Comcast’s non-responsive customer service, Conal eventually contacted the office of the Comcast Controller, Lawrence Salva, and expressed his opinion that should perhaps be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a private-sector oversight operation.
After this discussion with Mr. Salva’s office, the controller himself — who had not actually spoken with O’Rourke — contacted Conal’s employer, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which earns a significant amount of revenue (at least $30 million annually, according to the complaint) as a consultant to Comcast.
There is little debate about the above points. Where Conal and Comcast differ is their respective accounts of his call to Mr. Salva’s office.
Comcast claims that Conal mentioned that he was employed by PwC and attempted to use it as leverage to get better service.
“Mr. O’Rourke believes that the Controller’s office performed an online search after Mr. O’Rourke stated that Comcast should be investigated by the PCAOB, and learned that Mr. O’Rourke worked for PwC,” contends the complaint.
The call from Mr. Salva — who is also named as a defendant in the suit — to a PwC executive resulted in Conal being subjected to an ethics investigation, which Conal claims consisted solely of a 20-minute phone interview.
Conal says he has made repeated requests for recordings of the call where he is purported to have name-dropped PwC, but in spite of Comcast’s claims that it exists, the recording has not materialized. Additionally, neither Comcast nor PwC will provide details on exactly what Mr. Salva told PwC.
“Defendant Salva either directly asked for Mr. O’Rourke’s termination, or implicitly requested and caused it by making the knowingly false, defamatory, and malicious accusation that Mr. O’Rourke had violated accounting ethics rules by attempting to use his employment with PWC as leverage in his ‘negotiations’ with Comcast,” contends the lawsuit.
Section 551(c) of the Cable Communications Policy Act forbids cable companies from disclosing “personally identifiable information concerning any subscriber without the prior written or electronic consent of the subscriber concerned.” And since Comcast has yet to argue in any of its statements that it obtained this permission, Conal believes the company has violated this statute.
Additionally, Section 551(f) of the same law allows victims of such violations to seek actual and punitive damages, along with legal costs.
The lawsuit also alleges breach of contract, as Comcast has admitted publicly that it failed to live up to its obligation to provide the service that Conal ordered and paid for.
“Comcast breached the Agreement when it engaged in… overcharging Mr. O’Rourke, failing to show up for service appointments, sending Mr. O’Rourke to collections, and failing to repair his internet service,” reads the complaint.
Finally, Conal accuses the defendants of engaging in “unfair, unlawful and fraudulent business practices” in violation of California Business & Professions Code, by “violating his privacy, defaming him to his employer, unfairly and persistently overcharging him, and retaliating against him for questioning the legality and propriety of its billing and collections practices.”
The suit ultimately seeks damages and legal costs in excess of $1 million, an injunction barring Comcast from: providing subscribers’ personal information to third parties without consent; defaming customers to third parties; over-billing customers; and retaliating against customers who complain.
UPDATE: Comcast has provided the following statement to Consumerist regarding the lawsuit:
UPDATE #2: Harmeet K. Dhillon of Dhillon Law Group, the firm representing Conal, has provided the following response to Comcast’s statement: