(UPDATE) Which Accounting Firm Fired an Employee for His Dispute with Comcast? A: PwC

In short, Comcast is a despised company.

Now we have another tale of its treachery and the tentacles have intertwined a “large, prestigious accounting firm.”

Update below includes details that were revealed after our original post was published.  

Like central air conditioning and ranch salad dressing, cable TV is one of Americans' most cherished luxuries. The idea of not being able to witness rose ceremonies, professional and collegiate sport, and life in the Kardashian household is too much to bear for many.

Accordingly, cable TV has become a ludicrously lucrative business and one of the most ludicrously lucrative businesses in the space is Comcast. 

Comcast has been dogged by horrendous customer service incidents over the years, most recently when a representative refused to end a subscriber's Internet service. Oh, right. Comcast also is an ISP, so that's effectively their second license to print money.    

In short, Comcast is a despised company.

Now we have another tale of its treachery and the tentacles have intertwined a "large, prestigious accounting firm."

Consumerist has the awful tale of "Conal" who claims he was fired after Comcast "called a partner at his accounting firm." It's a pretty unbelievable (yet totally believable) story that illustrates that accounting firms, even in the case of a petty dispute between a consumer and a service provider, give deference to their clients. The details are so ridiculous that I'll blockquote them at length:

Conal began subscribing to Comcast service in early 2013 after he says he was sold a 9-month promotional pricing offer. But from the start, there were issues with his service, as he was being charged for set-top boxes that had yet to be activated. Additionally, someone at Comcast billing had misspelled Conal’s last name, meaning some of his bills were not being delivered.

He says he met with a Comcast rep in May 2013 about the billing issues and promised they would all be sorted out, but things only got worse.
 
A few months later, the promotional discount shrunk and Conal’s monthly bill increased by $20, in addition to still being charged for unactivated devices in his house. Comcast also twice charged him an additional $7 for a second modem he did not have.
Already, this sounds like pure hell. Let's read on!
He attempted to cancel his service in Oct. 2013 but says a Comcast rep convinced him that the billing issues would be resolved and that he would get free DVR service and The Movie Channel for three months as compensation.
 
But things didn’t just continue as they had before; Comcast somehow managed to sink even lower than it had before, sending Conal about a dozen pieces of equipment that he didn’t order.
 
“There were a few DVRs, modem, standard boxes and equipment that I was unfamiliar with,” he says.
 
Making matters worse, Comcast billed him $1,820 for all this stuff he’d never requested and had no use for.
 
When Conal returned all the equipment to Comcast and, being an experienced accountant at one of the nation’s most prestigious firms, even prepared a spreadsheet detailing every charge, overcharge, payment and credit on his account for his brief time as a Comcast customer.

Because, of course he did.

At this point, Comcast sent the unpaid bill for things Conal didn't want, and meticulously documented and communicated to Comcast as unwanted, into collections. Perfectly logical.

Then things get interesting. Fed up, Conal got in touch with office of Comcast's Controller to complain about this charlie foxtrot. He was told a customer service rep would get back to him. When he was contacted, this is what happened:

He describes that callback as “bizarre,” with the rep not identifying which company she was calling from, just starting out with “How can I help you?” Then she kept insisting that a technician had shown up for an appointment, but wouldn’t specify which appointment. The rep then began asking him for the color of his house.
 
So he tried the Controller’s office again, to let them know that the rep they’d sent his way had failed miserably at her job.
 
During this call, he says that he mentioned that Comcast’s billing and accounting issues should probably be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a private-sector oversight operation. This ultimately led to two service calls where no one ever showed up and no explanations were given.
Okay, so that's not really what the PCAOB does, but whatever. We have a cryptic phone call, conflicting accounts of whether a technician has shown up for a service appointment and a threat involving an obscure, quasi-government agency. It's like a very, very bad David Lynch film minus the dual personalities. 
 
Then things get worse for Conal. Much, much worse:
At some point shortly after that call, someone from Comcast contacted a partner at the firm to discuss Conal. This led to an ethics investigation and Conal’s subsequent dismissal from his job; a job where he says he’d only received positive feedback and reviews for his work.
 
Comcast maintained that Conal used the name of his employer in an attempt to get leverage. Conal insists that he never mentioned his employer by name, but believes that someone in the Comcast Controller’s office looked him up online and figured out where he worked.
The "leverage" claim by Comcast is interesting, as Consumerist reports that Conal does not work for "accounting firm that audited Comcast’s books" which is Deloitte (here's the company's latest proxy). Sure, a non-Deloitte Big 4, et al. accounting firm might have some embarrassing details about a universally hated company like Comcast, but it seems a little silly that this guy would try to use some obscure dirt to reason with a customer service representative.
 
As for the accounting firm's actions: 
When he was fired, Conal’s employer explained that the reason for the dismissal was an e-mail from Comcast that summarized conversations between Conal and Comcast employees.
 
But Conal has never seen this e-mail in order to say whether it’s accurate and Comcast has thus far refused to release any tapes of the phone calls related to this matter.

A Senior Deputy General Counsel for Comcast did admit that the company contacted Conal's employer, but " '[he] is not in a position to complain that the firm came to learn' about his dispute with Comcast."

I suppose that Conal trying to get in touch with the Controller wasn't the smartest move, but does Comcast regularly tattle on its customers to their employers? And do companies regularly fire their employees claiming they learned of a dispute with a client, but then don't provide evidence of that dispute? The whole situation is bizarre, to say the least.

All in all, this is par for the course for Comcast and, as mentioned earlier, it's not surprising to learn that a big accounting firm would go out of its way for a client. But fire an employee for having a nightmarish experience with a cable TV company? That's definitely a new one.   

Of course we're interested in learning which firm kicked Conal to the curb, so if you have any knowledge of this situation, email us

Unhappy Customer: Comcast Told My Employer About Complaint, Got Me Fired [Consumerist]

UPDATE: October 8, 2014

Well, that didn’t take long. Commenter RecoveringBig4Consultant links to this Ars Technica post (we’ve received tips with links to the article as well; thanks to everyone that emailed in) that provides lots of the details that were missing from the Consumerist post.
 
Conal O’Rourke approached Ars with all his documentation (including the $2,000+ bill for all that equipment) and explained in detail his awful experiences with Comcast’s customer service. 
 
For our purposes, the juicy bits are, of course, that PwC was the accounting firm that fired Mr. O’Rourke and Ars has all the details behind the who/what/why. 
 
Comcast’s controller is Lawrence Salva, a former PwC partner. This is who O’Rourke attempted to contact after his correspondence with Comcast customer service reps failed to resolve his issues. What followed, if you didn’t read above, is the cryptic customer service call that eventually led O’Rourke to threaten informing the PCAOB of Comcast’s sloppy procedures.
 
O’Rourke’s lawyer describes what allegedly happened next and it is classic big accounting firm SOP (I added emphasis just for fun):
Because Comcast was a major consulting services client of PWC’s, someone from the Controller’s office contacted Mr. Joseph Atkinson, a partner in the Philadelphia office of PWC, and falsely told Mr. Atkinson that Mr. O’Rourke had invoked his employment with PWC in an attempt to somehow obtain leverage in his negotiations with Comcast. Mr. Atkinson informed Mr. O’Rourke that the client was very valuable, was the Philadelphia office’s largest client with billings [REDACTED], that the client was very angry as a result of Mr. O’Rourke’s complaints, and that Mr. O’Rourke was not to speak with anyone from Comcast. While all of this was happening, Comcast continued to communicate sporadically and ineffectively with Mr. O’Rourke, setting up two service appointments that they missed without explanation on February 7, 2014 and February 11, 2014.  
Deference to clients. That’s the PwC way.
 
PwC spokesperson Caroline Nolan forwarded us a statement:
Mr. O’Rourke was employed in one of our internal firm services offices. The firm terminated his employment after an internal investigation concluded that Mr. O’Rourke violated PwC’s ethical standards and practices, applicable to all of our people. The firm has explicit policies regarding employee conduct, we train our people in those policies, and we enforce them. Mr. O’Rourke’s violation of these policies was the sole reason for his termination.
In a demand letter to Comcast, O’Rourke’s lawyer states that he would like $100k and he would like his job at PwC back.
 
Here’s Ars again (with more fun emphasis):
Why ask Comcast about a job at PWC? Because, Ryan tells Ars, PWC believed Comcast, and "we didn't feel that contacting them would do any good until Comcast retracted their defamation, or until we get the tapes through litigation."  
Deference to clients. That’s the PwC way. 
 
Oh, I said that already. Sorry.
 
Some people might argue that O'Rourke's behavior was overboard — calling the controller's office, threats to blow the whistle, etc. — but it just goes to show how expasperated he felt in a bad situation that only seemed to be getting worse. Right or wrong, the actions cost him his job and PwC can cite violation of policies with little fear of reprisal. 
 
Go read the Ars post for the full details and we’ll keep an eye open for further developments.
 

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