$20 Million Verdict For Whistleblower Who Exposed Financial Fraud of Elderly By Wyndham Vacation Ownership – World’s Largest Timeshare Company
A San Francisco jury awarded $20 million to Trish Williams, a former Wyndham timeshare sales representative, who was wrongfully terminated for reporting time share fraud on the elderly (San Francisco Superior Court Case No. CGC-12-526187). The verdict, read late on Thursday, November 17, 2016, followed a one-month trial in which Williams was represented by Chris Dolan of The Dolan Law Firm and Anne Costin of Costin Law Inc.
In 2010, the plaintiff, Williams, reported that elderly customers were being defrauded by Wyndham salespeople, who were opening and maxing out credit cards without their knowledge and lying about reducing interest rates, maintenance fees and the ability to obtain rental income from their timeshares. She also disclosed an illegal, industry-wide practice of falsely representing that if owners spend enough money, often hundreds of thousands of dollars, Wyndham would buy back the timeshare at full value at the owner’s request.
Evidence presented at trial revealed that Wyndham employees engaged in “pitching heat,” high pressure sales tactics involving deliberate lies and misrepresentations to get people to buy more timeshare “points.” These sales practices included “TAFT” days, which stands for “Tell Them Any F@#*ing Thing” days, where employees were encouraged to say anything to make a sale as long as they didn’t put it in writing. The highest selling sales agent was quoted as saying, “I sold my soul to the devil. I can say whatever I want so long as I don’t put it in writing, that’s why Wyndham has good lawyers.”
“I am grateful a jury of 12 people exposed the facts of this fraud and confirmed that I was terminated for standing up to Wyndham on behalf of the elderly clients they were ripping off. For six long years, I have battled the world’s largest timeshare corporation so that the facts showing their dishonesty would be revealed to an unbiased jury and the American public,” said Williams following her verdict. “I want to say to others that know people are being cheated by their employers: have the courage to stand up and protect others. It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do. I’d also like to thank my lawyers, Anne Costin and Chris Dolan, who took my case and beat back the army of defense lawyers that Wyndham threw at us. We need more lawyers who will fight for what’s right.”
Williams’ attorney, Costin stated: “This was an epic battle against a well-funded army of lawyers that took us across the United States to obtain evidence and testimony demonstrating the fraud. This jury was deliberate and careful. In no way should this verdict be characterized as anything other than what it is: just compensation for Ms. Williams and a penalty of less than on half of one percent of this mammoth corporation’s net value.”
“This is a warning to corporations worldwide: do not steal from the elderly as you will be held accountable. Given the aging of our population, more and more elder financial fraud is occurring. Whistleblowers need to come forward, and they should be commended for their courage and sacrifice. If others in this industry, or any industry, see fraud, report it to an outside agency and make a protest to your company’s ethics line. It’s up to individual citizens, lawyers, judges and juries to protect the vulnerable and bring the powerful to justice,” emphasized the plaintiff’s attorney, Dolan.
Read a profile of the Williams whistleblower lawsuit by Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times.
2017 Update: In March 2017, the Court reduced the punitive damages award from $18.6 million to $12.8 million. The Court made clear it was solely correcting a mismatch between the punitive and compensatory damages and that the evidence showed Wyndham’s behavior was “highly reprehensible.” Read the Court’s order. Wyndham has appealed the Court’s order.