Former Employee Lawsuit Says CenturyLink Agents Committed Wells Fargo-Like Fraud, Motivated By Aggressive Sales Goals

A former CenturyLink employee is suing her former employer, alleging she was fired for bringing to light concerns the telecommunications company got customers to pay for services they did not request.

Bloomberg on Friday reported that the employee, Heidi Heiser, who worked from home as a CenturyLink customer service and sales agent for a little over a year, was fired within days of notifying CenturyLink CEO Glen Post of a scheme by CenturyLink employees to take advantage of personal incentives to add services or lines to customer accounts.

Those employees allegedly then falsely indicated that those services or lines were approved by customers, which sometimes resulted in unauthorized charges to customers, Bloomberg reported.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: CenturyLink Execs Detail New Channel Focus, Plans To Bring Top IT Vendors To Its Telecom Partners]

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Bloomberg reported that Heiser compared the actions of the CenturyLink sales agents to the recent scandal at Wells Fargo where "employees opened deposit and credit card accounts without customers' consent to earn incentives and meet sales goals." That case resulted in the firing of over 5,000 employees and $185 million in fines.

John Hudson, director of service provider solutions for Lumenate, a Dallas-based IT consulting firm and CenturyLink partner, told CRN that he thought "slamming," or the illegal practice of switching a consumer's telephone service without authorization, was a thing of the past.

"As an agent, we work with enterprises," Hudson said. "I can't imagine making those kind of decisions for our customers."

Hudson said the lawsuit was only just filed, and so it will take some time to know the truth. Even so, he expects some customers will ask about it when discussing CenturyLink services.

"If we were in a sales situation with CenturyLink competing against AT&T or other carriers, I could see customers asking questions," he said.

A CenturyLink spokesperson, in response to a CRN request for more information, replied via email that the company is focused on serving customers.

"As such, CenturyLink holds itself and its employees to the highest ethical standards and does not condone any type of unethical behavior. The allegations made by our former employee are completely inconsistent with our company policies, culture and Unifying Principles, which include honesty and integrity," the spokesperson wrote.

CenturyLink has what it calls an "Integrity Line," operating 24 hours a day, where employees are welcomed to express any concerns about ethics or compliance issues, the spokesperson wrote.

"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," the spokesperson wrote.

CenturyLink, a Monroe, La.-based global communications and IT services company, is in the process of acquiring Level 3, a Broomfield, Colo.-based provider of communications services to enterprise, government and carrier customers. That acquisition is slated to close by the end of September.

Level 3, in response to a CRN request for more information, referred the matter to CenturyLink.

CenturyLink shares fell nearly 5 percent to $25.75 a share, while Level 3 shares dropped almost 3 percent, to $62.03 a share, in Friday trading.

The lawsuit, case number CV2017-008928, was filed in the Maricopa County branch of the Arizona Superior Court on Wednesday.