Cellular provider AT&T is currently facing a class-action lawsuit for unfairly taxing customers as a result of the Portland Green Energy Fund. Recently, it has been revealed that AT&T is exempt from the surcharge because the ordinance identifies the company as “an entity operating as a utility within the City.” Among those filing the complaint is Professor of History Elliott Young.
The Willamette Week report entitled “Portland Lawyer Collecting Clients for Lawsuit Against AT&T” expanded on this exemption, stating “cell phone companies are exempt under the rules for the Portland Clean Energy Fund surcharge the city started collecting Sept. 10.”
AT&T has said that it plans to refund all those affected by the tax, but the class-action lawsuit filed by a number of Portland residents, represented by attorney Michael Fuller, seeks to obtain at least $200 more for each individual affected by the tax.
Young reflected on how he got involved with the lawsuit, discussing how the tax affected him.
“When I heard about the charging for taxes that AT&T hadn’t paid, I felt that it was my duty to seek justice,” Young said via email. “I was personally affected by the tax, but it was less the amount of the tax, a few cents on each bill, than the brazen corporate robbery that irked me.”
In November 2018, Portland residents voted to implement the Portland Clean Energy Fund. The fund applies a 1% surcharge to large retailers in the Portland area. The collected revenue from this new tax goes to raising funds for clean energy programs throughout the city, specifically in underserved areas.
The ordinance outlining the plan for the Clean Energy Fund explains this surcharge, as it states that it “requires large retailers (those with gross revenues nationally exceeding $1 billion, and $500,00 in Portland) to pay a surcharge of 1% on gross revenues from retail sales in Portland, excluding basic groceries, medicines, and health care services.”
While some citizens expected the additional charge created by the Green Energy Fund to be paid by these large retailers, the burden has fallen on Portland consumers through increased prices. Cellular provider AT&T was one of the companies that decided to pass this tax onto their customers.
Young further elaborated that the lawsuit is not so much about the tax itself, but the exploitation of AT&T customers.
“The amount of the taxes is minuscule for each customer, but the fact that a multi-billion dollar corporate behemoth would be so bold to steal money from their customers made me feel that a class action lawsuit was the only way to get AT&T’s attention,” Young said. “Hopefully, this lawsuit will create a cultural and systemic shift at AT&T, but I’m not holding my breath.”