Millions of AT&T customers may be eligible for a piece of a class action settlement stemming from accusations the mobile carrier illegally charged subscribers undisclosed administrative fees for years. A judge tentatively approved a $14 million settlement in June, and the site for filing claims is now live.
Plaintiffs in the suit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, argue AT&T failed to inform postpaid wireless customers they were being charged a monthly $1.99 administrative fee for each line. (Unlike, postpaid customers are billed after the fact based on their usage.)
In an email to CNET, a spokesperson said AT&T denied the allegations put forth in the lawsuit, adding that it "clearly and prominently" discloses all fees. The carrier agreed to the settlement, the rep added, "to avoid lengthy, expensive litigation."
Here's what you need to know about the case, including who is eligible for a payment, how much class members could get and how to file a claim.
What is AT&T accused of in the class-action suit?
AT&T began charging postpaid customers a monthly administrative fee for each wireless line in May 2013.
In their suit, Vianu v. AT&T Mobility, plaintiffs Ian Vianu, Elizabeth Blum and Dominic Gutierrez allege the fee is really a way for AT&T to increase its basic rate "without having to advertise the higher prices."
The fee has been regularly raised -- it more than doubled in 2018 to $1.99 a month -- even though AT&T financial records allegedly show the company's administrative costs have actually been decreasing.
According to the complaint, mention of the fee is intentionally buried in bill statements "to [make] it likely customers will not notice it." It's also phrased to suggest that it's akin to a tax or regulatory fee, the suit reads, "when in fact it is simply a way for AT&T to advertise and promise lower rates than it actually charges."
Calling the practice a "bait-and-switch scheme," the plaintiffs maintain AT&T has "unfairly and improperly extracted hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains from California consumers."
Their complaint accuses the carrier of violating several California statutes regarding unfair, unlawful and fraudulent business practices, as well as "the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing."
Who is eligible for money from the AT&T class action settlement?
AT&T customers in California who were charged administrative fees on their postpaid wireless service plans between June 20, 2015, and June 16, 2022, can file claims from the settlement and receive one-time cash payments.
While all postpaid customers were charged the fees, only California residents have recourse due to the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, which protects against "false advertising, fraud, and other unfair business practices."
It's not clear how many subscribers AT&T has in California, though it is the third-largest mobile carrier in the US, with more than 80 million postpaid customers across the country.
How much will class members receive from the AT&T settlement?
Class members who successfully file a claim will receive an equal share of the net settlement. Payments are estimated to be $15 to $30, covering between six and 11 months of administrative fees.
The payments may ultimately be higher or lower depending on the number of claimants, as well as attorneys' fees, which will likely be upward of $3 million.
In any event, the payments won't be a full reimbursement of the administrative fees: According to AT&T records, the average customer has paid $180 in fees since 2015, The Verge reported, two years after the practice began.
How do I file a claim for a cash payment from the AT&T settlement?
You'll be asked for your name, mailing and email addresses and AT&T Wireless phone number or account number. Claims must be submitted by Oct. 29, 2022.
Some class members received emails or postcards notifying them of the potential settlement with a Notice ID and Confirmation Code.
If you received a notification, include the ID and code when you file. If you didn't receive a postcard or email -- or do not know where it is -- you can still file without them.
If you are eligible for the settlement but want to opt out in order to retain the right to pursue your own lawsuit, you must email or mail a request for exclusion by Sept. 29, 2022.
When will class members receive payment from the AT&T settlement?
A California court gave preliminary approval to the $14 million payout in June. A final approval hearing is scheduled for Nov. 3. If the court signs off on the deal, payments would be sent out sometime after that.
Current AT&T subscribers would receive their refund via an automatic credit to their account, while former customers would likely get a check or debit card.
Want to find out about more class action settlements? See if you qualify for payouts from T-Mobile's $350 million data-breach deal, the $90 million Facebook frictionless sharing case or Roundup weed killer's $45 million settlement.