A California man is seeking $1 million in damages from Comcast, alleging that he lost his job because an official defamed him to his employer after he made complaints about his cable bills.
The suit, filed on behalf of Conal O'Rourke of San Jose, contends that Comcast's false and malicious allegations caused Mr. O'Rourke to lose his job, and suffer tremendous economic and emotional damages.
"Comcast destroyed Mr. O'Rourke's professional life," states the complaint, which was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for Northern California and requests a jury trial.
In a statement released this morning, the cable and broadcasting giant responded that "Comcast had nothing to do with PricewaterhouseCoopers' decision to terminate Mr. O'Rourke."
In that regard, "Mr. O'Rourke's claims are without merit" the statement asserts.
It described as "totally unspeakable" the language used by O'Rourke with service reps, while acknowledging he had valid service concerns.
The case received national attention because O'Rourke's account was that he paid dearly for simply trying to resolve a series of billing problems.
O'Rourke's attorney, Maureen Pettibone Ryan, threatened to file suit unless, by Tuesday, Comcast apologized, compensated O'Rourke about $100,000, and got him his job back.
Comcast posted a public apology online, calling O'Rourke's service and billing problems "unacceptable," but declaring that "nobody at Comcast asked for him to be fired."
"We view Comcast's apology as a public relations strategy, not a genuine apology," according to a statement from O'Rourke's attorneys. "...The Controller's office at Comcast knew when it made the ethics complaint to PWC that if PWC believed the complaint, Mr. O'Rourke would be terminated."
According to the 18-page suit, after nearly a year of problems, during which "he had not received a single bill in which he was correctly charged," O'Rourke "contacted the office of Comcast's top accountant, Controller Lawrence Salva" in February.
The suit alleges:
"Mr. Salva personally called Joe Atkinson, a principal at Mr. O'Rourke's employers, PWC [PricewaterhouseCoopers]. Because Comcast pays more than $30 million a year to PWC for consulting services, Mr. Atkinson took the call. Salva demanded that Mr. O'Rourke be fired from PWC, falsely claiming that Mr. O'Rourke had violated accounting ethics standards by using PWC's name as 'leverage' in his 'negotiations' with Comcast."
Comcast has acknowledged that a conversation took place.
In a letter to Ryan, posted online on by Ars Technica, senior deputy general counsel Thomas R. Nathan stated:
"Comcast communicated to PWC that a person claiming to be a PWC employee had called our chief accounting executive's office with complaints about his cable service and bills, and yelled at our employees who tried to assist him. Those statements were neither untrue nor unprivileged, as such, they cannot be defamatory. Comcast unequivocally denies your assertion that it requested PWC to fire Mr. O'Rourke."
Salva is listed as a defendant, as well as Comcast and 20 "unknown individuals" who work for Comcast and spoke with O'Rourke.
The full text of this morning's statement from Comcast:
"We don't normally comment on pending litigation and as we have said, there were clear deficiencies in the customer service that we delivered to Mr. O'Rourke. Comcast had nothing to do with PricewaterhouseCoopers' decision to terminate Mr. O'Rourke. Once again, we apologize to Mr. O'Rourke for his service issues. We said we were determined to get to the bottom of exactly what happened with Mr. O'Rourke's service and we are doing that. As part of this investigation, we have listened to recorded calls between Mr. O'Rourke and our customer service representatives and his treatment of them and his language is totally unspeakable. Mr. O'Rourke's claims are without merit."
Judgment is sought for $1 million in damages, punitive damages, court costs and attorneys' fees, and "injunctive relief barring Comcast" from providing customer's information to third parties, overbilling customers, and "retaliating against" them.
The suit alleges defamation, unfair business practices, breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the Cable Communications Policy Act.