CenturyLink employee claims she was fired for accusing telco of fraudulent billing practices

One of CenturyLink’s former employees has sued the telco over claims that she was fired for alerting the company about charging customers out of millions of dollars for services they never ordered.

Heidi Heiser, who worked remotely for CenturyLink as a customer service and sales agent from August 2015 until October 2016, said in a lawsuit filed in Arizona State Superior Court, she was fired shortly after pointing the issue out to the service provider’s CEO Glen Post during a company Q&A session.

In the complaint obtained by Bloomberg, Heiser alleges that CenturyLink "allowed persons who had a personal incentive to add services or lines to customer accounts to falsely indicate on the CenturyLink system the approval by a customer of new lines or services."

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As a result, this practice would sometimes result in charges that hadn't been authorized by customers, according to the complaint.

Heiser said that what made her aware about the scheme was news outlets’ coverage over a similar practice Wells Fargo conducted by signing up consumers for new accounts to drive up sales metrics without telling customers.

When customers asked Heiser about the charges, company management told the customer support department to "inform the complaining customer that CenturyLink’s system indicated the customer had approved the service," the complaint notes, meaning "it was really the customer’s word against CenturyLink's."

Heiser managers told her to "stay positive and not to mention her concerns again," according to the complaint. She did not report the issue to key regulators--the Federal Communications Commission or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  

A CenturyLink spokesperson told Bloomberg the company "holds itself and its employees to the highest ethical standards" and has "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."

Heiser said that five months before she was fired, she experienced dropped calls with customers due to what the suit described as a "malfunctioning system." Although Heiser reported the issue repeatedly to superiors, the dropped calls were allegedly cited by CenturyLink as the reason for her dismissal, which came two days after the Q&A session.

These allegations, if true, could be a black mark on the telco as it moves to complete its acquisition of Level 3 later this year.