OAK HARBOR, Wash. - The owners of a Whidbey Island home-based business are taking on a corporate giant with revenues of more than $1 billion a year.
O&R Construction in Oak Harbor, Washington is suing the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation and Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corporation for deceiving, misleading and cheating them out of $799 a year.
Dun & Bradstreet was founded in 1841 and was one of the first companies on the New York Stock Exchange. D&B rates the credit worthiness of small businesses. Without a D&B number, it can be impossible for small companies to get the financing they need to do business.
But in its complaint filed in the United States District Court of Western Washington, O&R claims D&B hurt their business instead of helped it, and co-owner Robyn Kolaitis isn’t enjoying the spotlight that comes with being the first to join the now-nationwide class action lawsuit against D&B.
“It’s scary,” she told KIRO 7’s Amy Clancy. “It’s not fun.”
Kolaitis and her husband Orin -- the “O” in O&R--- are quickly becoming known all over the country as the small business owners taking on big business. Robyn does the books for the company while Orin does the building. In order to do any work at the nearby naval air station or community college, O&R was required to register their already-licensed business with Dun & Bradstreet.
Robyn Kolaitis told KIRO 7 it was only after signing up with D&B that she started receiving troubling phone calls.
“They were pushy salesman,” she said of the D&B callers who claimed “you have a lot of people inquiring into your credit report, and you need to make sure it’s OK, at it’ll cost you $700 a year.”
Kolaitis believes those calls, which began shortly after her company received its D&B number, were “aggressive scare tactics.”
Despite her reservations, Robyn agreed to pay the yearly fee to Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corporation to keep her credit clean, as the salespeople had promised.
She soon, however, had a problem at Home Depot: O&R's credit limit suddenly dropped by $8,000.
“It’s scary when you’ve worked really hard over the years to get a good credit limit, and to have it wiped out by a third overnight by something you have no real knowledge about. It’s very difficult,” she explained.
Robyn was especially frustrated that, despite her payments, Dun & Bradstreet wouldn't fix the issue or disclose the source of the credit problem so she could fix it herself. In fact, Robyn doesn't believe her credit really had any issues at all.
Neither does her attorney.
“Our investigation revealed that Dun & Bradstreet is essentially putting misleading, inaccurate, false information in small business’ credit reports,” Brad Moore of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan in Seattle told KIRO 7. “They’re telling them they need to buy a product to fix that misleading, false information,” he said.
“They’re lighting your house on fire and selling you the hose,” is how Robyn described it.
Moore is one of more than a dozen attorneys nationwide now representing thousands of small business owners, like Robyn and Orin Kolaitis, in suing Dun & Bradstreet, and its former subsidiary Dun & Bradstreet CC, in a class-action lawsuit. But the legal action all started with O&R. The plaintiffs and their attorneys hope it'll end with Dun & Bradstreet
“At the end of the day, what we want Dun & Bradstreet, and DBCC to do is to stop doing what they’re doing. That’s the ultimate goal,” Moore said.
Robyn Kolaitis is surprised her case has expanded nationwide, but is glad that it has.
“I think it’s wonderful that even just a little mom and pop operation out of Oak Harbor can make a change nationwide. I think that’s fabulous,” she said.
But it hasn’t changed yet. Brad Moore is hoping D&B will settle. If not, all the nationwide cases will be tried together in a federal courtroom in Seattle at the end of 2015.
Dun & Bradstreet never responded to requests for comment.