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

Sponsored Link

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.)



Comments (40) | Leave Comment | Permalink

Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: BatmanOfOz This user has validated their user name.

Sun Nov 21 18:04:03 2021

Wow...just Wow!  I will never let anyone on my property again!  
I am so sorry that you have gone through this nightmare!!
My own shock and awe experience was having an estimate for Solar, having to 'sign' the documents on the salesman's tablet Before He Printed Them Out and I could read them!!
Pass!!

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Sun Nov 21 20:16:11 2021

sue them both in small claims court

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: OnlyPollyPocket This user has validated their user name.

Sun Nov 21 20:56:11 2021

That situation would have the opposite effect on me as it has, apparently, on you, Ina.

Not only wouldn't I sign such an egregious constraint on my rights (and those of everyone I know or ever will!) but I would be shouting from the rooftops naming names and kicking arse!

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Sun Nov 21 21:25:37 2021

Edited to add that we didn't sign the contract, apologies if that was not clear.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

This user has validated their user name. by: Lightning

Sun Nov 21 23:31:09 2021

Ina, the first line says the $100 is included in the settlement amount to Releasor (whatever that amount is), so Verizon is paying YOU, not CHARGING you $100.

They usually put ''in consideration of $1'', but that may be regarded as not significant enough compensation to qualify as ''consideration'' these days, so arbitrarily selected $100 instead.  The $1 amount is too close to zero, and could be argued as NOT ''good and valuable consideration'', which is how it is typically worded.  it's all fictitious anyway, just stated to show that some form of payment was made in exchange for the release, which has been custom for hundreds of years.

As for the non-disparagement clause, that is way too general on its face.  All of that should be specific to ''the incident'', not a blanket clause.  They wrecked your arbor and are now replacing it, so you are financially even upon payment.  

As you say, there should be no requirement for non-disparagement on your part at all.  There should be no involvement or influence on any of your rights that would limit your opinion of them in any way or form, or limit your ability to recount the story in a good light or a bad one.  The 2 things are not related.  It's not like they are doing you a favor, just supposedly setting things right (hopefully, at some point).  

It would have been best if this was handled like any other insurance claim - you get an estimate, they review it for appropriateness to the incident and send you any required documents for review including the amount they intend to pay as compensation.  This is before any money is spent, so all parties are on the same page.  Still doesn't solve the non-disparagement clause issue, but the replacement should not have been on your dime.

It is possible you could also work this through your homeowner's insurance.  They might reimburse you and chase Verizon's insurance.  Same way a car accident works - the 2 insurance companies figure it out.  Since the responsible party has been identified, the insurance deductible will likely not apply, so that would not be an impediment.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: Silver Ice King This user has validated their user name.

Sun Nov 21 23:41:46 2021

Companies are beginning to see just how much negative comments about their companies can affect their business going forward.  Consumers continue to fight back against these corporations who continue to try and take away our civil and constitutional rights.  This is just another step in corporate America trying to take more of our freedoms away so they can do whatever they want, just as Ebay continues to try and do.

These companies already have the politicians under their control with their campaign donations which is why so little gets done no matter what they do.  But now they are working on taking away what the Constitution guarantees all of us because they  do not want to be held responsible for not following the laws of this country.

I am glad that David and Ina not only refused to sign the document, but are also spreading the news to others about the steps that corporate America is attempting to do to silence the ever growing uprising against how Corporate America is now running this country.  Each and every one of us needs to step up and start holding Corporate America responsible for their actions.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

This user has validated their user name. by: The End

Mon Nov 22 02:52:24 2021

Jeez !
Now I don't feel so bad....the Town Plow smashed our Beautiful Mailbox to smitherines and they refused to pay for it.
Nice Arbor Entry by the way.....

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: Fek This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 05:59:20 2021

Non disclosure agreements have gotten out of hand.  I can't even tell my husband about the projects I'm working on because of NDAs.  Adding non-disparagement clauses is just going too far, especially when they extend to people outside your control, like all your relatives and friends.  Who can control their relatives and friends?

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: postbuster This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 06:11:59 2021

Disgraceful at every turn!

As pace has mentioned, what are the possibilities to have an attorney entertain the notion of escalating their cheap offer?

It takes Kilo-tons of nerve to even send you this ''contract'' over damage caused by them.
And they think that you and your family's silence is only worth $100 to them.

I also wonder how much their reputation would be worth if you didn't sign the contract (done),
and continued to publicize this ''effort'' to make an amends, as an insult to all of the customers they have in their business.

Thank you very much for sharing your struggle with us, and I'm so sorry that you have to endure this outrageous insult to injury.

I also have a bad experience from our local electric company, but I will have to save it for another time because I don't think that people like to read long posts as much anymore.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: cvsharkey This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 06:46:47 2021

Thank you for sharing. This is a critical issue. Anyone who does not have a battalion of lawyers on retainer becomes shocked when repercussions of agreeing to something like this.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Mon Nov 22 07:04:25 2021

Regarding the sentence in question: I had written, "Why were they making *us* agree to pay $100 for the "privilege" of losing some rights?" That sentence is poorly worded, so here's the deal: in the settlement amount, they agreed to give us $100 less than the cost of the replacement arbor plus $100 for a right - something they say has value. But they took it out of the cost of the arbor.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Mon Nov 22 07:06:41 2021

I don't even like the term, "settlement amount." They agreed to pay the replacement cost of the arbor, it's not a negotiation.

Don't get distracted by the clause about the $100. The point we are trying to get across is that the company agreed to pay for the replacement arbor, and now they/their insurance company is forcing us to enter into a contract with an overreaching confidentiality and non-disparagement clause.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: Bird Mad This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 07:25:35 2021

Could you take the Verizon repair person to small clams court?  Or, just Verizon because they did not pay the claim unrestricted.

You two are great reporters. I look forward to your updates every time.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: Small Guy This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 07:53:17 2021

Ina and David, you have a big microphone and good communications skills.  Think of all the less fortunate who just have to "eat" such bad actions and move on.  Thanks for taking the time to expose and educate and take a stand.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: Small Guy This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 07:53:17 2021

Ina and David, you have a big microphone and good communications skills.  Think of all the less fortunate who just have to "eat" such bad actions and move on.  Thanks for taking the time to expose and educate and take a stand.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: lookinforthered This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 08:05:30 2021

Hello Ina !  Very sorry to learn of your run-in with Sedgewick. After 33 yrs @ GM I went out on medical & they were the collection of idiots that were contracted for medical claims. They are one of a couple entities I would tell anyone to avoid; Sedgewick, Green Tree Mtg., & one I'll refer to as LC. Sedgewick & GreenTree in particular like to use a technique of what has been referred to as ''spinning'' when they get a victim on the phone. It works something like this in that the first person you encounter will tell you certain things & then end up transferring you to another for perhaps another matter they say they can't handle or to wrap up matter you raised. Then second person asserts whatever was said before is irrelevant as they are the one in charge. Likely you'll protest so you get handed off again & you now hear that once again person on the line is the one in charge and anything prior is incorrect, etc. Goal here is to get you lost & confused as most people take very poor notes to document enough to protect themselves & take charge of a conversation. In effect you're being beaten down and will likely go along with whatever they want. I speak from direct experience as with Green Tree I had at one point 3 lawyers who were getting this treatment & I heard all about it from them. I recognized it due to my Sedgewick experience.  At that point we changed our tactics. One of the key things I learned was the old adage ''get it in writing''. I've been battling with a company I'll refer to as LC & used it by demanding they cease & desist calling me, that I would not call them & that  I refused to engage with their poorly designed, maintained & likely done so on purpose website. To date I've lodged over 11 formal complaints with CFPB,  8 or so formal complaints thru my state regulatory department against them, 1 formal to FNMA & multiple to my Congressional representatives. I forced LC into only being able to engage with me in writing. Has it worked? I'd say it has as I've gotten both my loans modified & got LC so frustrated they admitted in writing to trespassing on my property. That admission I intend to use against them in filing a police report & to take them to court over. In Ina's situation she's raised a new tactic & extreme I'd not heard of before. She's encountered a written form of retaliation & harassment so my ''in writing'' technique wouldn't apply. I think her making us aware of what Verizon & Sedgewick, et al are up to is an excellent response & tactic. Just like eBay, the bully's and abuser's hate sunlight being shed on their lying, cheating & stealing. Myself, I will make it a point to share this story with my clients, friends, etc far & wide. Please keep us posted on this Ina ! Public exposure & discourse are our best defense against this kind of behavior !!

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Mon Nov 22 08:55:33 2021

Firstly, beware of a contractor carrying a ladder, especially if you are riding behind one who has the ladder on a truck.

Secondly, this is another example of a company that has gotten too big for its britches.  They want total control over their customers.

Keep fighting and let us know how it turns out.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: leavingNY This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 08:56:12 2021

File a small claim. In my experience from small claims. I have won many. When you sue a company, they don't want to spend the time it takes to go to court or even answer the papers served. So they pay it so they don't have to pay a lawyer to go to court for them which would cost them way more. When you sue a private person, its a toss up as to if you get paid, but I put a lien on them if they don't pay, the judgement, and sometimes years later when they go to buy or sell something big like a car or home, the lien comes up and they are forced to pay me - with interest so they can sell their home or take out a loan for a car. The only person I cannot get the judgements paid is my Ex for over 50k of back owed child support in the form of 3 court judgements and found 3 times in contempt. It appears is all you have to do is move to FL and work for your brother off the books forever to avoid paying child support in NY. The child is now 41 years old. The Ex owns a home, drag car, boat and lots of toys, but never paid up for our child. I was never on welfare, or they would have gotten it for me.  

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: vintagejewelryrepair This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 09:57:17 2021

We had a very similar situation with Lowe's Home Improvement this year.  We got new flooring and they used a local third party installer.  They were horrible to work with: bad measuring by their person led to forced huge overbuying on our part that they would not return, many incidents of horrible customer service which I won't detail here for sake of length, and other bad issues that require too much writing.  After calling and talking back and forth to different representatives, I finally was sent to the "executive" team and she offered me $500 and all I had to do was signed the form.  I read the form.  Same thing as what is in your contract: have to destroy any photos we had taken, have to remove any comments already made to any social media as well as not indicate anything disparaging against them, and a whole laundry list of similar items.  I did not sign it.  I did not get the $500.  Here's the part that disturbs me the most:  it is basically "hush money".  It should be compensation for a poorly done job, bad service, us being out money and time due to their mistakes and poor choices they made.  But instead, it has turned into "we'll compensate you for our poor quality job, our mistakes, the time and money we cost you by choosing to go with us for your project, but only if you keep your mouth shut."  That's hush money, not compensation for making things right.   I don't have the time or money to sue them, especially going against their corporate panel of attorneys.  And that's exactly what they count on.  So, I am freely telling everybody that Lowe's corporate was one of the worst companies I've ever dealt with.  I will never consider them again for any project.  Thing is, if they had just compensated for the time and monies lost, I would choose to not say anything disparaging against their company because they had righted the wrongs with me.  I wouldn't have had to be forced into silence by signing a form that gives away the right to do so.

Perminate Link for Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers   Another Big Corporation Tries to Silence Its Customers

by: toastedmutt This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 22 10:14:45 2021

Despicable!

Small claims court might be the only prudent way to get compensated and retain your right to free speech.

Sorry you are dealing with another scum bag corporation.

Click to view more comments
1 2  [Next Page]


Login is required to post comments.
To sign in to leave a comment, fill in the form below. If you have not yet signed up for AB Verify, or if you'd like more information, go to the Registration Page
.

Login for AB Verify
Be sure and use your email address and password to log in.

 
Email:
Password:
 
 Forgot Your Password?
 Even though you are signed in with the AuctionBytes Blog, you will have to sign in to the EcommerceBytes blog. But you can sign in with your existing AB Verify info.