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Fired for not Breaking the Law, Manager Says

EUREKA, Calif. (CN) - A store manager claims U.S. Cellular fired him on a pretext for refusing to instruct his employees to remove data blocks from customers' accounts without notifying them - which he claims is illegal and deceptive trade under state law. Eric Jorgenson sued USCC Payroll Corp. in Humboldt County Court.

Although U.S. Cellular is not named as a defendant in the heading of the complaint, Jorgenson says he "was employed by U.S. Cellular in Humboldt County," that USCC Payroll is "affiliated in some manner with United States Cellular Corporation," and he refers to "defendants" throughout.

Customers may add a data block to an account to keep data from arriving at a certain phone or electronic device. The data may come from the Internet, from a virtual store that sells ringtones and applications, or from other cell phone users who want to send photos or videos.

Jorgenson says that "each and every cellular telephone service plan offered by U.S. Cellular includes access to the entire Internet, including Internet content that might be inappropriate for some cellular customers, such as pornography, violence, and other content that some users may find to be offensive or otherwise inappropriate for themselves or other persons on their plan. Furthermore, all U.S. Cellular telephone service plans also permit users to take and transmit photographs and video. Some persons may object to this and U.S. Cellular disclaims responsibility for content of pictures and/or videos.

"However, not all customers want data access for either themselves or persons on their plan. To address these situations, U.S. Cellular agrees, at the direction of their customers, to 'block' data usage on a cellular telephone line/phone with its services at no additional charge.

"For example, parental subscribers to a family plan may opt to have data blocked on their children's cellular plans to prevent children from spending money on ring tones and/or applications. Similarly, parents may choose to block their child's data access to prevent them from incurring overage charges on data usage. Alternatively, parents may choose to have their child's data plan blocked so that the child does not access content such as pornography, violent depictions, or other objectionable material."

Jorgenson claims that "in or about November 2009, plaintiff's supervisor, Roberta Winger (the U.S. cellular director of sales for Northern California and Southern Oregon), informed plaintiff that U.S. Cellular negatively viewed data blocks as it inhibited a potential revenue source for the company and that it was making the reduction of the number of customers with data blocks a high priority item. Winger informed plaintiff that U.S. Cellular began tracking the percentage of accounts that were sold that had a 'block' to data usage by region and by stores that sold the telephones and plans. Winger told plaintiff that employees could be subject to discipline or termination based on their number of data blocks added at time of activation. Winger also told plaintiff that he and other management persons, including herself, would be negatively rated if persons with plans in their geographic area had data access blocks, and that they could be subject to discipline or termination based on these numbers as well.

"During this conversation, Winger also directed plaintiff to retrain, discipline, or terminate employees that sold too many cellular telephone service plans with data blocks.

"In or about November 2009, Winger told plaintiff to have his sales team go through each of the customer plans in his region and eliminate all data blocks from each and every customer accounts without notifying customers of this important change to their account."

Jorgenson says he suggested other options, to no avail, says he believed then and still believes "that Winger's direction to lift customer data blocks without prior notification to them was/is an unlawful and deceptive business practice."

He says he told Winger "it would be better to contact customers before making such a change and that it could be good for business if they notified customers first."

But he says she told him that if he did that "the customers might just cancel their data package, resulting in a net loss of revenue. ... Winger then indicated that she wanted plaintiff to proceed with lifting the data blocks without notifying customers. The conversation ended at that point."

Jorgenson says he believes "Winger directed all of her subordinate managers within her geographical region to lift data blocks on customer accounts without notification." He says he believes that the other managers did it, "and as a result customers have suffered injury."

Despite Winger's orders, Jorgenson says, he "directed his sales associates to contact each customer with a data block and remind them that they had a data block, inform them of the valuable services that they could access if they lifted their data block, and to inquire as to whether they would like to lift their data block."

The complaint continues: "Plaintiff then informed Winger a few days after their initial conversation that he was having good results in contacting customers regarding their data blocks. Approximately four weeks later, on or about December 4, 2009, plaintiff's employment was terminated for the stated reason of his 'poor decision making.'"

Jorgenson says that was a pretext, and that the record shows he was a good store manager who always met his goals. He demands back pay and front pay and punitive damages for wrongful termination, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

He is represented by Stephen Danz of Los Angeles and Christopher LeClerc of San Francisco.

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