Last October, Comcast Corp. was rocked by one of its periodic customer service blowups when a California accountant claimed in a federal lawsuit that a top Comcast executive had gotten him fired for complaining about overcharges on his cable bills.
Conal O'Rourke of San Jose said that after he called to complain to Comcast's controller's office, the head of the office, Lawrence Salva, phoned his employer to complain about him.
Within days, PricewaterhouseCoopers L.L.P. fired O'Rourke for violating its ethics standards.
O'Rourke - whose case was an Internet sensation - now is an unemployed accountant with a "destroyed" career, his attorney said Wednesday. Salva, meanwhile, was promoted recently to executive vice president, one of seven people at that level at the Philadelphia technology and media giant.
Settlement talks in the case are scheduled for next week.
Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said Wednesday that there was no relationship between Salva's promotion and the Northern California case, which the company considers frivolous.
"Larry Salva has been promoted to executive vice president because he is one of the most outstanding and respected chief accounting officers and controllers in corporate America," Moyer said Wednesday. "While we don't normally comment on pending litigation, the decision to promote Larry was not affected by a baseless allegation, which has developed into frivolous litigation."
Moyer added, "We believe Mr. O'Rourke's claims are without merit, and we expect to be fully vindicated."
Little new information has been disclosed publicly on the O'Rourke case. Both sides agreed that Comcast would not respond in court to the specific allegations until after the settlement talks scheduled for Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Paul S. Grewal is mediating the talks.
Harmeet Dhillon, O'Rourke's attorney, who also is vice chairman of California's Republican Party, said Wednesday was the deadline for both sides to submit documents to Grewal.
"Comcast has destroyed our client's career, and he is suffering extreme emotional distress," Dhillon said.
She declined to specify what O'Rourke was seeking financially, though the suit says he is seeking more than $1 million for Comcast's alleged violation of a federal cable law that protects subscriber privacy, defamation, breach of contract, emotional distress, and unfair business practices.
If the case proceeds, a big issue will be determining what O'Rourke said to officials in Salva's office.
Unable to have his overcharges fixed, O'Rourke called Salva's controller's office in Philadelphia last February.
Salva claimed to PricewaterhouseCoopers that O'Rourke invoked his connection to the accounting firm to gain leverage in his conversations over the bills, the suit says. Because of this, PricewaterhouseCoopers determined that O'Rourke violated its ethics standards, the suit says.
PricewaterhouseCoopers is not named in the suit.
O'Rourke says that he phoned Salva's office and did not use his employer's name to bargain. He told someone in Salva's office, the suit says, that perhaps Comcast should be investigated for accounting failures by the nonprofit Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which protects investors.
Comcast has apologized to O'Rourke for his customer service problems in a blog. The company also has said that O'Rourke used obscene language with its customer service representatives.