CenturyLink, $17.9 billion telecom company whose communications is headed by Debra Peterson, candidate for 2018 chair-elect of PRSA, has been hit with fraud charges that could cost it up to $12B.

Minnesota on July 12 joined seven other states in filing a class-action consumer suit against the company.

Debra PetersonDebra Peterson

The state says CenturyLink customers had to contend with “an incredibly complicated pricing scheme” that involved more than 1,500 different scenarios of what would be charged.

One customer said the quoted rate of $14.95 monthly turned out to be $29.95. Another said service was offered for $19.95 but the bill was $367.33 including monthly net service for $71.

CenturyLink, based in Monroe, La., is the third largest landline wireline provider after AT&T and Verizon. Glen Post is CEO.

Glen PostGlen Post

The suits say damages could range from $600M to $12B. Also filing are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Fired Employee Touched off Suits

Touching off the suits was a complaint in June by former employee Heidi Heiser who says she was fired after telling Post about the over-billing.

Company spokesman Mark Molzen said CenturyLink is cooperating with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson by providing all requested information. He said the company takes the allegations “seriously” and they are “completely inconsistent with company policies, culture and Unifying Principles.”

Peterson Is Unopposed Chair-Elect

Peterson, who is VP-external communications and community relations for CenturyLink, is unopposed for chair-elect in 2018.

She was on the national board from 2011-2013 and under the original rules that governed PRSA could not return to the board as a director or officer. That rule was meant to prevent a group of insiders from perpetuating their control of the Society.

Anthony D’Angelo, slated to be chair in 2018, would not have been allowed back on the board since he served on it from 2004-07.

16 of 17 PRSA Directors Are APR

Sixteen of the 17 national directors in 2017 are accredited when only 18% of members are APR. The board several years ago tightened the grip of the APRs on leadership by restricting office posts to those who had already served on the board.

Should Peterson become chair-elect, CenturyLink would be the biggest company represented on the Society’s board since 1994 when Joseph Vecchione of Prudential Insurance was president. Prudential revenues are $50B+.

About half of the Society’s elected presidents or chairs since then have been solo practitioners or in small PR firms including Sam Waltz, Stephen Pisinkski, Reed Byrum, Del Galloway, Joann Killeen, Cheryl Procter-Rogers, Judith Phair, Rhoda Weiss, Gerry Corbett and Jane Dvorak.

Peterson has held executive posts with CenturyLink since 2009.

She holds an MS in Organizational Leadership from Quinnipiac University and a BS in Business Management from Albertus Magnus College.

Previously she was manager of PR and field communications, Embarq Corp. and VP of organizational development of Acsys Interactive Inc. She also headed her own firm as a consultant in human resources and employee relations.