It started with one of those annoyingly intrusive telemarketing calls. In January 1998, American Home Improvement Products rang up Diana Mey, trying to sell vinyl siding to the Wheeling, W.Va., homemaker. She asked them not to call again. When they did, two weeks later, she wrote to complain. "They knew I was serious because I'd taken the time to write," says Mey, 40. "I thought it was over."

In fact, it was just the beginning of a battle pitting the mother of three sons against an industry. Though Mey told the company it was breaking a federal law requiring telemarketers to remove consumers from their phone lists on request, three months later a saleswoman phoned again. "I was like, 'For crying out loud!' " says Mey. " 'How many times do you have to ask?' "

To make her point, she sued AHIP in small claims court for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and sought $5,000 in damages. AHIP countersued for $10,000 and punitive damages, charging Mey with illegally recording her calls to company officials when she inquired about corporate policy. (She had recorded them, but to do so is legal in her state.) "I sat her down," says her husband, Mark, a truck-dealership service manager, "and asked, 'We're not going to lose the house over this, are we?' "

Far from it. After a judge threw out AHIP's countersuit, the company agreed to pay Mey $4,000 and apologize for suing her. She got the money, but not the apology. "That was the most important thing to me," says Mey. "They bullied me." So in March she sued AHIP again, this time for $45,000, charging that the company had lodged its suit just to harass her. Finally, Sears, which had acquired AHIP in February, settled out of court. (A Sears spokesman calls AHIP's countersuit "clearly a mistake.") The sum was not disclosed, but Mey's lawyer Jonathan Turak says, "They are doing everything to make Ms. Mey happy." For one thing, says Mey, "we don't get many calls from telemarketers anymore."