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Fired for Failing to Slam, Verizon Manager Says

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - A store manager claims Verizon Wireless fired him for refusing to slam customers - to charge them for auxiliary items they do not know they are paying for. Edwin Whitaker says a corporate boss told him to "encourage slamming" at the store to boost profits, and when Whitaker refused, saying it was unethical and illegal, the boss got angry and then fired him on a pretext.

Whitaker demands more than $1 million for wrongful firing. He worked for Verizon from 2004 until December 2009, managed one of its stores in Virginia, and then managed Verizon's store in Morristown, Tenn., from July 2008 until he was fired, according to his federal complaint.

"A sales practice known as 'slamming' was followed and encouraged in several of the defendant's stores in the district headed by [Rich] Bulger and [Jaren] Starnes," the complaint states. "Slamming refers to the sale of a phone to a customer with auxiliary items attached but without the knowledge of the customer. Slamming resulted in a higher price to the customer, a higher profit to the store and a higher compensation to the representative. The practice is unlawful in that it is a form of unfair and deceptive practice affecting the conduct of trades or commerce in violation of T.C.A. 47-18-104."

Whitaker says that in late September or early October 2009 he had "a heated discussion with Jaren Starnes with regard to slamming." Starnes was the assistant district manager at the time; Bulger was the district manager.

"The essence of Starnes' remarks was that plaintiff should encourage slamming in order to improve the levels of sales at the Morristown store. Starnes had suggested it before but never had he done so in such a blatant and emphatic way. Starnes was aware that as a store manager plaintiff had not approved the practice. On this occasion plaintiff told Starnes that it was unethical and illegal and that plaintiff was not going to engage in slamming and was not going to make his employees do it.

Starnes was angered by plaintiff's response."

Whitaker says they had "another heated discussion" in mid-October, during which he "felt that Starnes was looking for a reason to terminate plaintiff with the underlying reason being plaintiff's refusal to engage in or have his employees engage in slamming."

In November, Bulger was transferred and Starnes became his district manager, Whitaker says. He says Starnes put him on leave on Dec. 2, 2009, after he had resisted, for a third time, Starnes' efforts to push slamming in Whitaker's store.

Whitaker says Starnes fired him on a pretext, involving a troublesome employee, but that the real reason he was fired was for refusing to slam or have his employees slam customers.

Whitaker is represented by Beecher Bartlett Jr. with Kramer Rayson in Knoxville.

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