Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Sun Nov 21 2021 14:22:53

Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

By: Ina Steiner

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It takes a lot to shock us, but what one large corporation is trying to do is right up there with the more egregious cases we've written about in our 22 years of reporting. In this case, it's personal, but we’re shining a light on it because it could impact any one of our readers, and also highlights practices that likely extend well beyond the specific company and industry in this instance. 

The troubles began on October 14, David and I heard a loud noise outside, and immediately lost our Internet connection. An XPO Logistics semi-tractor trailer had driven down our tiny one-way street and clipped the wires that ran from the utility pole across the street to our house.


Amazingly it didn't take down the electrical wire, but it snapped our Verizon Fios Internet cable, which was now lying across our neighbor's driveway.

Over 24 hours after reporting the issue - which seems like a lifetime when without an Internet connection - a Verizon technician came and reconnected our service. But in carrying his ladder to the side of our house, he smashed our decorative arbor beyond repair.

We were given his supervisor's contact information, and the Verizon field manager agreed 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 reimbursement is 2-3 weeks."

Enter the claims representative from Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., who contacted us about Verizon's claim. After first telling David he wanted to depreciate the value of the arbor, he finally agreed to pay the full amount as Verizon had promised.

He said we would have to sign a "release" that was, in fact, a contract that included a confidentiality clause. (We're the releasors, they are the releasees.) The contract stated that the promise of confidentiality as provided in this paragraph included a material inducement ($100) to us to enter into the release. Wasn't the fact that Verizon damaged our property the "inducement" to compensate us, as it had already agreed to do?

But more disturbing was the non-disparagement clause under the confidentiality section of the release (not labeled as such, which made it easy to miss) that required us to agree that we would never disparage them. Ever. With no limits outlined in the paragraph, so if Verizon screwed up in the future, we could never discuss it with anyone, "including but not limited to entries or comments on websites, on the internet, or on any other electronic, print or social media."

Not just about this matter, and not just us meaning David and myself, and not just them meaning the "releasees" (which include Verizon New England, Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh PA, and their insurance carriers, members, partners, subsidiaries, affiliates, parents, and related companies).

Our relatives and heirs would also be bound by the non-disparagement clause! 

And it would extend not only to that exhaustive list of releasees listed above, but also to *their* "heirs, executors, administrators, agents, predecessors, successors, divisions, officers, directors, shareholders, members, employees, assigns, partners, subsidiaries, affiliates, parents, insurers, third party administrators, and attorneys."


The non-disparagement clause seemingly had no limits. Imagine if a company with whom we had a problem now or at any time in the future was acquired by Verizon or Sedgwick, etc. - suddenly, our hands would be tied?

That was a non-starter - we refused to sign the contract as it stood, and even though Verizon had agreed to reimburse us, it won't without a signed, unamended release.

As reporters, it's repugnant to us when large companies try to silence people. And as reporters, we can't sign an overreaching contract that limits what we can say. Verizon itself owns ecommerce business units. Does that mean I couldn't publish a letter from a reader on my website from a seller critical of its services?

So many people today are "content creators," whether on blogs, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc. They should not have to agree to give up their right to free speech. 

Verizon and Sedgwick kept pointing their 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, Verizon's executive vice president and chief administrative, legal and public policy officer, a representative called us back and said there was nothing Verizon could do - it was between us and Sedgwick.

Federal law prohibits non-disparagement provisions in form contracts. The contract Sedgwick sent us prevented us from disparaging the companies including entries or comments on websites, on the internet, or on any other electronic, print or social media.

It's unclear if the Consumer Review Fairness Act applies to the Verizon/Sedgwick contract, but the spirit of the law certainly does:

"The law protects a broad variety of honest consumer assessments, including online reviews, social media posts, uploaded photos, videos, etc. And it doesn't just cover product reviews. It also applies to consumer evaluations of a company's customer service."

We felt it was important to expose what we feel is unfair behavior by Goliaths against consumers. Be careful what you sign - and when you see something wrong, we hope you'll continue to speak out as you have when it comes to your online selling businesses.

Update 11/21/2021: Edited for clarity. (Updated on 11/22/2021. See the comments.)

Update 12/1/2021: You can find an update to the story in this new blog post.

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Readers Comments

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by: spooky This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 10:22:56 2021

Amazing. I thought Comcast was the worst business on earth but apparently Verizon is right there with them. There is no gray area here - you are 100% correct and Verizon is dead wrong. Good luck

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by: Gumball This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 10:46:01 2021

Large corporatons have no eithics anymore, and as we all know by now are not held accountable for their nefarious actions, nor the harm they do to others. You have to wonder how many lawmakers have signed such agreements when receiving money for reelection campaigns or whatever. It would effectively prevent them from passing legislation to make corporations take responsiblily for whatever harm they do to others.  

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by: myfriendhenry This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 11:28:19 2021

I have been on the other end of this transaction with Sedgewick who represented Sears.  The customer complained to Sears, Sears has insurance with Sedgewick and I had Farmers at the time.  Farmers paid Sedgewick, Sedgewick paid customer.  In this case the damage was 30K, so I'm thinking they didn't care about signing anything.  Saved them from having to go to court.  Yea, dishwashers can mess some things up!

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by: BMTOKC This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 11:51:56 2021

I WOULD RECOMMEND YOU ALWAYS CALL POLICE AND GET A POLICE REPORT ON FILE. ESPECIALLY WITH THE TRUCK, AND EVEN WITH VERIZON DAMAGING YOUR TRELLIS.

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by: oddpeanut This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 12:48:03 2021

They are asking a lot for $100! They need to add some more zeros especially since it includes the family line!

Since the title is about big corporations silencing customers...
I have been banned from writing reviews on Amazon. It was quite shocking!
I bought an off brand stand mixer and it works great. In my review I said it was comparable to the major brand but for a lot less money. I DID NOT say the name of the major brand! The next thing I know I have been banned from writing reviews. I tried to appeal it but was denied! They said I was biased and the ban is permanent! So someone can trash talk a product all they want but give an honest review and you're done.
I can still make purchases of course, my money is always good  

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by: Snapped This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 12:52:06 2021

Sue the contractor.  Let THEM ‘settle’ with Verizon.

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by: Mazdaman This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 14:02:33 2021

@lookinforthered:

Please don't expose the way Sedgewick works, as you're giving eBay new ideas on how to fleece their customers even further!

By the way, Sedgewick is the firm that handles leave situations and similar for Wal-Mart, and having had dealings with them before I can say they are the SCUM OF THE EARTH.  Medical leave is there for a reason, and on-the-job injuries to employees or other similar needs aren't taken seriously by this company, but instead employees are given the runaround in the same manner as you're seeing now.

It may be best to go after them in court, as THAT is then public record no matter what they may want you to sign.  My bet is that they'll pay you rather than be taken to court.

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by: Docinmd This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 15:15:28 2021

About 25 years ago I was sent a release "contract" to sign. I was to sign first, then the other side would sign and send me a copy of the signed contract.  Knowing the print type and size could probably be replicated, I sat down at my computer and re-wrote the entire contract. Typeface and size was so close no one ever noticed.

I changed many of the "requirements" making sure that each paragraph was about the same size, same with each page. I wrote things like "By signing this contract, payee also agrees to pay for all legal fees for all parties in any future legal or court actions." Same for any future medical issues and more.

They signed the contract! Sent me a copy. They stupidly wanted me to sign with a notarized stamp, and they also notarized their signature. so at a point 6 years later when they thought their obligation was done, I let them know they were still on the hook for 4 more years of disability payments & medical bills, then the sh*t hit the fan. I told my original disability attorney what I had done [including their obligation to future legal costs], and he started laughing.

They went to court. Judge reminded their legal team that until ONE party signed the contract, it was subject to change. He asked them if they read the contract. If they said yes, then they agreed to the contents. If they said no, then they were stupid, but were still bound by the contract. The attorney finally said they probably didn't read it before signing.

Judge said I had a right to add or delete parts to the contract, but was under no obligation to tell the other side what I had changed, as it was their choice to check it over or just sign it.

The Judge also said that their original contract was illegal on multiple counts and did not have a section to keep all the other parts as a complete contract, if other parts were found to be illegal.  He said my re-write was fully legal.  He confirmed that based on the contract they were bound to the 10 year commitment, and he also approved the part where they were responsible for all legal fees. His finding was that the plaintiff's actions were "Egregious and irresponsible", and it was his decision that an additional 2 years be added to the time they had to pay me and my medical insurance.

His final requirement was [after hearing the other lawyers say they will tie it up in court for years] if they appealed his decision, he would require them to set aside the costs of continuation for the full 6 years, PLUS all legal fees, guaranteed by bond, or the full value set aside in a bank account, both to accrue interest at 8%.

They negotiated a settlement with me for the full 6 years in one lump sum, paid my legal team 100%, and I agreed to release them from the contract! Took the money and used part of it as a down payment on my farm.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Mon Nov 22 16:30:25 2021

Asking for permission!

Is it alright if I post this on Verizon;s facebook page?

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This user has validated their user name. by: David Steiner

Mon Nov 22 16:44:07 2021

No need for permission

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by: BackOff This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 16:54:26 2021

Interesting story. Here’s another one about a large corporation:

https://www.israellycool.com/2021/06/21/ebays-disg
raceful-response-to-person-who-complained-about-hizbullah-items-being-sold/

They
tried to silence me earlier this year when I reported someone who was listing and selling terrorist material on ebay. I’ve sent this story to Ina several times, but strangely ecommmercebytes has refused to publish it. You published similar ones from tips I’ve sent in the past, so why was this one never reported by you?

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This user has validated their user name. by: unsuck

Mon Nov 22 16:59:56 2021

''It's unclear if the Consumer Review Fairness Act applies to the Verizon/Sedgwick contract''

It's my understanding these sketchy and unreasonable non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions are *precisely* the reason the CRFA was created in the 1st place.😡

Kudos for shining a light on this practice and alerting consumers.

Hopefully you also filed a complaint with the FTC?

If so, or when you do, perhaps that too could be shared with readers as example?

Other thoughts:

- Pretty funny that Verizon's CAO office told you there was nothing Verizon could do

- The Verizon-Sedgewick finger pointing reminds me of eBay and PayPal's frequent blame-game between the companies post-split. Quite convenient to have another entity to pass the buck to.

- Interesting to see Sedgewick also has an online reputation management division... Imagine that.

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by: BackOff This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 17:01:13 2021

Here’s another article about how ebay tried to silence me:
http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/2021/06/ebay-bans-dr-seuss-al
lows-hezbollah-daniel-greenfield/

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by: BackOff This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 17:01:58 2021

https://www.israellycool.com/2021/06/21/ebays-disgraceful-response-to-
person-who-complained-about-hizbullah-items-being-sold/

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by: BackOff This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 17:06:32 2021

I really wish ecommercebytes would publish the story about ebay blocking me on Instagram. I reported dangerous material being sold on their site. I sent you screenshots months ago. I began reporting the illegal items to ebay in January 2021. ln late June 2021, ebay’s Facebook and Twitter pages were inundated with angry emails because Israellycool.com published my story. Ebay quietly removed the seller but never removed the block against my Instagram account.  

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by: PeterMZollman This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 17:46:34 2021

Ina, please be sure to post an update when you resolve this craziness!

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This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Mon Nov 22 18:43:43 2021

EBAY SUCKS

I'M PISSED AGAIN

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by: flamingo on 1 leg This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 19:01:19 2021

I hope you will change carriers.  Verizon was the worst in my area for phone, will no calls and missed calls.  All of the large corporations when they ask for feedback is BS.  They really don't give a rats behind.  As long as they are making money, they will continue to screw consumers.  

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by: airbrake This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 23 08:09:46 2021

Small Claims Court and see if you can get a Consumer Reporter to comment about the issue on TV or a YouTube segment or what used to be the good ole press.

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by: JackieBlue This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 23 16:54:09 2021

Just submit it to your homeowners.  They will handle it under subrogation.  Release of all claims for this incident is standard but the extra stuff is nuts.  

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