updated 11:15 am EDT, Thu May 28, 2009
ATT Class Action Cleared
A federal District of Washington court yesterday rejected (PDF) objections to a class action lawsuit that accuses the carrier of abusive behavior in transition customers to its service. The plaintiffs can now bring their complaints, which center on what they claim are unfair practices in moving customers to its network in 2004 when it was still called Cingular; those from the then-smaller, separate AT&T were allegedly not only pulled off a network that was "dismantled" in favor of a poorer Cingular network but were forced to move to more expensive cellphone plans, replace phones and to pay early termination fees if they didn't want to remain on the network.
The present-day AT&T had previously tried to avoid the lawsuit by citing a contract clause which required that any dispute be handled by third-party arbitration instead of lawsuits. The court ruled that this wasn't enforceable, even in states without laws that may apply to the case, as it would prevent AT&T from ever being liable on a broader scale. Critics have also accused AT&T of using arbitrators likely to rule in favor of the company rather than customers.
AT&T hasn't commented on the lawsuit's approval, which may require compensation and could alter both how it handles disputes as well as its approach to customers acquired through takeovers or divestment deals like that which handed a small number of Alltel customers to the provider.