AT&T now faces a lawsuit over improperly billing customers for a tax that it does not have to pay.
The company has been collecting a small amount per month from Portland customers to cover the Clean Energy Fund surcharge, but the company is actually exempt from the measure passed by voters last year.
As WW first reported earlier this week, the company is considered a utility for the purposes of the Clean Energy Fund tax—and is therefore exempt from the 1 percent increase in the business license tax that applies to all retail companies with $500,000 in revenue locally and $1 billion nationally.
The money generated by the new tax is designated to go to sustainability projects, particularly in low income communities and communities of color.
The Oregonian first reported today that AT&T would refund local customers who have been charged for the tax.
But the class-action complaint, filed today in Multnomah Circuit Court, seeks to collect at least $200 for each customer affected.
"AT&T only said it would refund the money it wrongfully collected from Oregon customers after AT&T got caught," states the lawsuit, filed by Lewis and Clark College professor Elliott Young. "AT&T still has not agreed to pay its customers the $200 penalties and interest they are entitled to under Oregon law as result of AT&T's unlawful trade practices."
Attorney Michael Fuller, who is representing Young, says the penalty is a necessary disincentive.
"If you steal from a bank, you can't just refund the money you stole when you get caught and call it good," Fuller tells WW. "AT&T stole from Oregon customers, and Oregon law entitles customers who were assessed the unlawful surcharge to $200 statutory damages, and punitive damages to punish AT&T and deter other corporations from charging illegal fees."