Class action status sought in lawsuit against US West


— Plaintiffs in a lawsuit that charges US West Inc. with deceiving local telephone customers, spending money to court merger partners instead of improving service, and cutting costs at the expense of customers have filed for class action status.

A filing seeking the class-action designation as well as a motion to unseal certain company documents were submitted Friday in Larimer County district court.

A hearing on the motion to make the documents public is scheduled for Nov. 1. Shareholders of US West and Qwest Communications International Inc. are scheduled to vote on their proposed merger on Nov. 2.

Documents included in the court filings detailed some of the charges against US West.

Among them, the plaintiffs allege that US West made ''huge financial gains'' while allowing its local service to ''deteriorate to a level worse than any other Baby Bell.''

The complaint also says that US West's top managers decided to ''increase profits and cut expenses through means that had a disastrous effect on customer service.'' It also criticizes the company for rewarding senior executives, including Chairman and Chief Executive Solomon J. Trujillo, with stock options, bonuses and ''extravagant salaries.''

Further, the lawsuit seeks to make public documents that US West says contain proprietary business information that could help the company's competitors.

US West officials have refused to comment on specifics about the case. However, officials vowed Saturday to fight the complaint and the release of confidential documents.

''The vast majority of our customers do get the service they need when they need it,'' said US West spokeswoman Anna Osborn.

US West acknowledged having service problems in the past but says the situation is improving. Officials said the Public Utilities Commission already has addressed many of the same issues raised in the lawsuit. And they say the company's impending merger with Qwest Communications International will improve service and competitiveness.

Seven plaintiffs are named in the suit, which consolidates some class-action cases started in 1996. The size of the potential class was not disclosed.

The case was filed on behalf of customers who ordered new or additional telephone service: ''Defendant has deliberately underfunded their local telephone service in Colorado, resulting in long delays for many thousands of Coloradans in receiving basic phone service.''

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