Can a company fire you for being a bad customer?

By | March 14th, 2016

This is not a story about David Dalka’s web hosting provider. Technically, it’s about the terms of Dalka’s service, how his hosting company interpreted and how it executed them.

And also why it unceremoniously discontinued his service.

Lawyers insert all kinds of clauses in the wacky adhesion contracts you’re forced to sign when you subscribe to a product like cable TV, wireless service or an Internet service provider. Most people ignore the fine print because they figure, “What choice do I have?”

But pay attention. Contracts can be littered with vague restrictions that are subject to any kind of interpretation. That’s what likely happened to Dalka when he signed up for service last May through a company called A2 Hosting.

“They promised better service and a critical webmaster staging feature, but never delivered.” he says. “Instead, I got the runaround, excuses, poor service, and hard upsells constantly.”

Finally, after many complaints, and hours on the phone, an A2 representative suggested “I might go elsewhere.”

And then his server stopped working.

“When I complained about that, they terminated my account,” he says.

Hmm. Terminated for complaining? Can they do that?

Actually, yes. Here are the terms:

5. Termination

Either party may terminate the services by providing written notice to the other no later than 25 days from the expiration of the Initial Term or Renewal Term.

We reserve the right to immediately terminate this TOS, and suspend or cancel the Services: (i) for a violation of any of our policies, including those incorporated by reference; and/or (ii) your failure to pay any amounts due. This right of termination is without prejudice to any other rights we may have. You are not entitled to any type of notice or protest should we exercise these rights.

Upon termination, your account will be closed. We have no responsibility to forward e-mail, or other communications, for you once your account is closed. You are encouraged to keep the Service active during a transition period should you seek to forward your e-mail or other communications.

One party may also terminate this TOS upon the occurrence of a material breach, which has not been cured by the other party within 10 days of their receipt of written notice of the breach. For the purposes of defining a material breach, materiality shall be determined from the perspective of a reasonable business person with significant experience in Internet business. Notices of material breach must contain sufficient detail for the party against whom the assertion of material breach is directed to identify the breach and attempt to take corrective action.

Does anyone know what a “material breach” is? Neither do I. It’s all gibberish to me.

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Dalka wants a full refund of his purchase amount. “They have wasted hours and hours of my time,” he says.

It sounds as if the relationship between Dalka and A2 Hosting is irreparably damaged, and I’m sure by now, he’s backed up all of his data and is migrating to a new hosting provider.

I could tell you stories about web hosting that make this incident look downright civil. Several years ago I was involved with a company that had a spectacularly dysfunctional relationship with its hosting provider.

After one particularly ugly disagreement over billing, the hosting company angrily transferred all of the company’s domain names to itself and deleted data from its server. Both the domains and data were eventually returned, but the hosting company had made its point; it was time to move on. (Fortunately, I was only a spectator).

So can a company fire you for being a bad customer?

You bet. And it happens all the time. Car rental companies have “do not rent” lists, for example. Small businesses like bars and restaurants informally keep lists of problem customers they refuse to serve. Heck, I even have a list of news outlets I’ve stopped working for and I’d never work for again (even though they probably think they fired me – an old journalism Jedi mind trick!)

Perhaps the lesson of Dalka’s case is: Don’t complain too much or you and your data could be kicked out the virtual door. Or something to that effect.

I’m not sure if there’s any money to be recovered for this customer. Did A2 breach its contract? Probably. Did Dalka? Possibly. A credit-card dispute could be the best way to reach a quick resolution.

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A consumer advocate? Maybe not.

Should I take David Dalka’s case?

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Update: Dalka has followed up with a few additional thoughts. (Although I mentioned at the beginning of this story that this isn’t a story about him.)

All of these items were not covered at all which led to an inaccurate hearing of the facts:

As I stated in my original note, they never provided a stable service (the article did not mention that), they made every problem a bogus upselling opportunity (the article did not mention that), they misrepresented the staging features they were adding (the article did not mention that) and numerous people reported not being able to reach my web site due to a serious routing issue which they refused to professionally solve (the article did not mention that).

Because these items weren’t covered, the post is not complete and therefore just stating that I was terminated putting up a highly inappropriate picture to make my serious problem look like a complete trivial joke is frustrating and insulting to me. It is not accurate. Worse, it may cause future companies to take a wrong and false view of me.

I appreciate the opportunity to update the story with Dalka’s perspective.

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