Star News Online, March 22, 2011 – Wilmington woman lead plaintiff in $10 million lawsuit against AT&T

Posted March 22nd, 2011.

By Wayne Faulkner

A Wilmington woman is the lead plaintiff in a $10 million class-action lawsuit charging AT&T with unlawful billing of customers for its “Inside Wire Protection Plan.”

The complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for Eastern North Carolina, states that Gloria Girton of Wilmington and other plaintiffs are being charged for service on interior lines that they do not own.

“AT&T is illegally charging many of its land line customers who live in multi-tenant facilities for unnecessary wire insurance,” stated Steven L. Wittels, an attorney with Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP in New York City, which is representing Girton, in a news release.

Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T in Dallas, said Tuesday that the company couldn’t comment because it had yet to see the lawsuit.

Girton and her daughter, Margaret Harding, came to Sanford Wittels & Heisler because Harding had been involved in another class-action lawsuit handled by the New York law firm, said Jaime Baum, a spokeswoman for the law firm.

Harding has power of attorney to handle her mother’s affairs, according to the complaint against AT&T.

Girton and Harding are represented in North Carolina by Jackson & McGee in Charlotte.

“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,” Wittels stated.

“We believe she and the class have sustained damages of at least $10 million and very likely much more.”

According to the complaint, each member of the class “was enrolled in and/or has purchased the (Inside Wire Protection Plan) despite (AT&T’s) actual knowledge that AT&T has no legal right to charge thousands of customers for the plan.”

That’s because “they are tenants in multi-unit apartment buildings or similar facilities, and their landlords are legally responsible for maintaining the inside telephone wires.”

The complaint states that because of a court-approved settlement in a California case in 2004, that “AT&T has been on notice that it is wrongful to bill apartment residents for the plan,” and that AT&T enrolled the plaintiffs in the plan without their consent.

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