Another big company tries to silence its customers
It takes a lot to shock us, but what a big corporation is trying to do is right there with the most egregious cases we’ve written about in our 22 years of reporting. In this case, it’s personal, but we’re highlighting this as it could impact any of our readers, and also highlights practices that likely extend far beyond the business. and sector specific in this case.
The trouble started on October 14th, David and I heard a loud noise outside and immediately lost our internet connection. An XPO Logistics semi-trailer drove down our small one-way street and cut the wires from the utility pole across the street to our house.
Surprisingly, he didn’t pick up the electric wire, but he broke our Verizon Fios internet cable, which was now in our neighbor’s driveway.
More than 24 hours after reporting the problem – what seems like a lifetime without an internet connection – a Verizon technician came in and reconnected our service. But by carrying his ladder to the side of our house, he broke our decorative arbor irreparably.
We were given the contact details of his supervisor, and the Verizon field manager agreed that the company would pay for a replacement – but we had to pay for it first. After we submitted the receipt, she replied, “I will submit the damage report and receipts today. Typical repayment is 2 to 3 weeks. “
Enter the Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. claims representative who contacted us regarding the Verizon claim. After first telling David that he wanted to depreciate the value of the arbor, he finally agreed to pay the full amount as Verizon had promised.
He said we had to sign a “waiver” which was, in effect, a contract that included a confidentiality clause. (We are the liberators, they are the freed.) The contract stipulated that the promise of confidentiality as provided in this paragraph was a material incentive for the freed ones to conclude the release. Wasn’t the fact that Verizon damaged our property an “incentive” to compensate us, as it had already pledged to do? Why were they doing *we* agree to pay $ 100 for the “privilege” of losing certain rights?
But more troubling was the no-denigration clause in the privacy section of the release (not labeled as such, which made it easy to miss) which forced us to accept that we would never denigrate them. Already. With no limits described in the paragraph, so if Verizon shits in the future, we could never discuss it with anyone, “including, but not limited to, entries or comments on websites, on Internet or any other electronic, print or social media. “
Not just about this issue, and not just us, i.e. David and I, and not just them, i.e. the “dumplings” (which include Verizon New England, Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh PA, and their insurance companies, members, partners, subsidiaries, affiliates, parent companies and related companies).
Our relatives and heirs would also be bound by the non-denigration clause!
And that would extend not only to that exhaustive list of versions listed above, but also to *their* “Heirs, executors, directors, agents, predecessors, successors, divisions, officers, directors, shareholders, members, employees, assigns, partners, subsidiaries, affiliates, parents, insurers, third party administrators and lawyers”.
The no-denigration clause apparently had no limits. Imagine if a company that we had a problem with now or at some point in the future was taken over by Verizon or Sedgwick etc. – suddenly our hands would be tied?
It wasn’t a departure – we refused to sign the contract as it was, and even though Verizon had agreed to reimburse us, it won’t be without a signed, unmodified release.
As journalists, we hate it when big corporations try to silence people. And as journalists, we cannot sign an exaggerated contract that limits what we can say. Verizon itself has e-commerce business units. Does that mean I couldn’t post a letter from a reader on my website from a seller critical of their services?
So many people today are “content creators”, whether it’s blogging, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc. They should not have to agree to give up their right to free speech.
Verizon and Sedgwick kept pointing fingers at each other, each saying there was nothing they could do. Sedgwick said the client (Verizon New England) required the contract to be signed. After reaching out to Craig Silliman, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, legal and public policy at Verizon, a representative called us back and told us that there was nothing Verizon could do – it was between us and Sedgwick.
It’s not clear if the Consumer Review Fairness Act applies to the Verizon / Sedgwick contract, but the spirit of the law certainly does:
“The law protects a wide variety of honest consumer reviews, including online reviews, social media posts, uploaded photos, videos, and more. And it doesn’t just cover product reviews. It also applies to consumer reviews of a company’s customer service.
We thought it was important to expose what we believe to be unfair behavior by Goliath towards consumers. Be careful what you sign – and when you see something wrong, we hope you continue to speak up the way you have when it comes to your online sales activities.
Update 11/21/2021: edited for clarity.