Yelp Reviewers Launch Class Action Lawsuit Claiming They're 'Unpaid Employees'

from the wtf? dept

Remember when a Huffington Post volunteer writer named Jonathan Tasini sued the company for not paying him, even though he had volunteered to occasionally contribute stories? That lawsuit went nowhere fast, but it appears that others are now trying something similar. A class action lawsuit has been launched by a small group of Yelp reviewers, trying to make the (laughable and ridiculous) case that reviewers on the site are actually unpaid employees who are now demanding compensation. It appears that they’re hoping the recent success of a few lawsuits involving “unpaid internships” will now carry over to user-generated content sites as well. To put it mildly, this is incredibly stupid.

Nothing about the relationship of a Yelp reviewer to the company is anything like an employment situation (or even an intern situation). They aren’t “hired.” They don’t have responsibilities or jobs that they have to do. They volunteer to share some reviews because they want to do so. Everyone has their own motivations for why, but the idea that it’s some sort of unpaid employment situation is ludicrous. The entire argument seems to hinge on the idea that Yelp gets value out of their reviews. Well, duh. But that doesn’t make it an employment situation at all. The lawsuit is also littered with out of context snipes at Yelp for other aspects of its business which have absolutely nothing to do with the legal questions in play. Part of the argument, believe it or not, is that Yelp “instructed” these “unpaid employees” to do more work… because it had policies associated with its various gamification mechanisms to encourage them to write more. For example, Yelp has long had a “Yelp Elite” status, but if you’re not contributing lots of reviews, you can lose that status. But, again, all of that is voluntary and is no different than tons of sites with gamification/badges for activity. To argue that constitutes an employment relationship is simply laughable.

It appears that at least some of the plaintiffs are pissed off because, at some point, Yelp cancelled their accounts based on “flimsy explanations.” But, that seems to work against their own arguments. If these folks were really so “exploited” by Yelp, and “forced” to write for no money… then, um, why are they so upset that they “lost” that “job”? The best the lawsuit can offer up (and I’m not joking) is that the “cult-like rewards and disciplines” associated with the gamification drove people to continue to “work” for free.

Once again, this seems like the sort of class action lawsuit that gives class action lawyers a bad name. Find a company that is making a lot of money and come up with some absolutely ridiculous reason for suing. Even in the ridiculously unlikely chance that this lawsuit goes anywhere, the only ones who will benefit are the class action lawyers.

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Comments on “Yelp Reviewers Launch Class Action Lawsuit Claiming They're 'Unpaid Employees'”

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51 Comments
Rikuo (profile) says:

I think Mike is against this case because he’s cheated a ton of money out of me. Hear that Mikey! I wrote TWO articles for this site, and what did I get out of it? Nothing! Besides the respect of people I will never likely meet, I got nothing! I’m gonna sue you too! In fact, I’m gonna open my own blog, with blackjack and hookers. In fact, forget the blog!

/sarcmarc for those too stupid to realize

out_of_the_blue says:

Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

Arguing legalities that allow The Rich to exploit the poor. — Civilization is all about fairness and morality for the common good, Mike, NOT legalities that empower The Rich.

Here’s a relevant similarity, has corporations that have already been found guilty and fined by DOJ:

The lawsuit against big tech firms like Google and Apple over their hiring practices has been given class action status, making it easier for the workers to lever greater wads of cash out of the companies if they win.

The case alleges a conspiracy between technology firms in Silicon Valley to keep employees’ wages down and curb competition by agreeing not to poach each other’s workers.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/25/no_hire_pact_lawsuit_class_action/


“Crony capitalism” is one of those terms people use to try and maintain that there’s also a beneficial version; what the 99% actually want is well-regulated fair markets favoring Industrial Production over Money Manipulation.

05:55:48[g-026-3]

Pragmatic says:

Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

legalities that allow The Rich to exploit the poor. — Civilization is all about fairness and morality for the common good, Mike, NOT legalities that empower The Rich.

What, like copyright, Comrade Blueski?

It also is used to empower the capitalist running dogs of the imperialist elite by taking money from the poor in the names of artists who never receive it, da?

What is this “everyday good of copyright” you speak of, bearing in mind that multiple copies must be sold to garner enough royalties to engender a payout if one is due? Surely the monies go first to the corporate masters, then to the middlemen, then to the serfs, and even then, only the most popular ones tend to gain anything from it.

Ah, comrade, you know little of the real world of copyright, and your rantings are but the misplaced frustrations of a failed writer and broadcaster. It’s not the pirates’ fault that you never sold much, but your own, for being crap.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

“Well” regulated markets is what we already have. Why was no one charged for the 2008 meltdown? Because very few people were doing anything illegal.

When laws are written as “The seller shall get a rating on the asset backed securities” as apposed to, “Buyer beware”, then we take responsibility for failure. Failure should punish those involved (banks) not those who aren’t (taxpayers).

Crony capitalism can be result of “well-regulated” markets, depending on the regulations. Think about tennis vs. gymnastics. In tennis, it is obvious when the ball is out. The ref just enforces the clear rules. In gymnastics, the score is based on so many intangibles, so corruption is easy. Capitalism must have regulations, but they must be clear and results-based. Procedure-based regulations should be avoided at all costs. Procedure based regulations allow companies to abdicate responsibility by claiming they were following the procedures, and the results are not their fault.

MrWilson says:

Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

So it’s unfair for rich companies to create websites based on customer participation, but it’s okay for rich corporations to exploit both talented musicians and their customers and corrupt the legal system with their purchased legislation?

You’ve got a beam in your eye called copyright maximalism which you might want to remove prior to ranting about the “exploitation” of volunteer reviewers who aren’t forced to write a damn thing for Yelp.

…then we can talk.

Jack says:

NOT Hansmeier?

I was shocked to scroll to the bottom of the lawsuit and NOT find “/s Paul Hansmeier”. I thought he might have finally filed his first Class Action lawsuit… I bet he is sitting at home all pissed off he didn’t come up with this first. Though I guess filing a class action suit is more work than objecting to a settlement at the last minute demanding $30,000…

yelpclassaction (user link) says:

The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

Yelp admits that 200,000 of its reviews came about because they paid the writers wages. Yelp pays its employees to write reviews, pays community managers to write reviews, pay scouts to write reviews (Group A).
The vast majority of the reviews are written by non-wage paid writers. (Group B) The writing between A’s writing and Group B’s writing is indistinguishable.
All we are asking is that you, as a Yelp writer, get paid like the other 200,000 review authored postings got paid in wages. It is an easy legal matter.
Quantum meruit-Yelp demanded the reviews. You can’t “volunteer” for a commercial enterprise and avoid paying taxes by getting paid in liquor, food, badges, trinkets and titles.
I would suggest that you actually read the complaint as it explains how well bottomed in the law this class action is. As for other web publishers-Yelp’s right to control, control and nature of the business model makes it unique. Yelp does things, demands things and exploits workers in a far more aggressive and actionable way than other websites. As for HuffPost…those plaintiffs stated that they were “owners” for their free work. We, however merely are asking that under federal law that all workers be paid wages-not just the C.Mgrs, scouts and other writers of the 200,000 reviews ALL writers get paid for the same work. Read the complaint and thank you for making Jeremy a multimillionaire off of your labors. Did you want your small share? http://yelpclassaction.info/panzerC.pdf

yelpclassaction (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

The complaint is 17 pages long and can’t be boiled down.
1. Yelp pays wages to all writers. It pays wages to some writers but trinkets to other writers. Our clients want wages as per the FLSA.
2. Yelp has the right to control-therefore they are employers.
3. Yelp’s business would not exist without the work of our writers. Therefore under the Nature of the Business test, our clients are employees.
4. Quantum Meruit. Yelp pays our clients in trinkets, titles, prestige. Yelp demands that our clients write more often and at a faster pace. Yelp profits from this. Equity demands that our clients get paid for their labors.
Thats as close as we can get to boiling it down.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

1. Yelp pays wages to all writers. It pays wages to some writers but trinkets to other writers. Our clients want wages as per the FLSA.

You don’t understand the FLSA. At all.

2. Yelp has the right to control-therefore they are employers.

You don’t understand what employer means.

3. Yelp’s business would not exist without the work of our writers. Therefore under the Nature of the Business test, our clients are employees.

You don’t understand the Nature of the Business test.

4. Quantum Meruit. Yelp pays our clients in trinkets, titles, prestige. Yelp demands that our clients write more often and at a faster pace. Yelp profits from this. Equity demands that our clients get paid for their labors.
Thats as close as we can get to boiling it down.

You are astoundingly clueless.

You are going to lose so badly that it’s not even funny. Seriously, you look completely clueless.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

As my comment up above indicates, I willingly wrote a couple articles for Techdirt, knowing full well that I wasn’t getting paid. It’s the exact same situation here. In fact, IpayTechdirt money in return for Insider status and privileges.
I’d like to know exactly how Yelp “demanded the reviews”. Usually when one party demands something of another party, the first party threatens the second in some way. If my boss tells me to do something in the workplace (and as long as it’s not illegal) but I refuse to do so, she threatens me with loss of my job and hence, wages. What did you stand to lose? You weren’t being paid. You didn’t have set working hours. You volunteered to write reviews.
If I make a video review on Youtube, but don’t sign up for ad revenue sharing, do I have the right to go back and complain when I notice the view count is in the hundreds of thousands? Same thing here. You willingly wrote a thing once, gave it to Yelp and willingly did it in exchange for what are basically e-trinkets.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

All we are asking is that you, as a Yelp writer, get paid like the other 200,000 review authored postings got paid in wages.

Then demand it as a condition for writing the reviews. If Yelp doesn’t agree to pay you for the work, then don’t do the work.

Easy legal matter.

I don’t see how the reviewers have even the start of a legal leg to stand on for a lawsuit. The reviewers agreed to write the reviews without compensation. According to IRS guidelines, Yelp reviewers don’t even come close to being considered employees. Yelp has not defrauded or cheated anybody in this matter. I don’t see the beef here.

novictim says:

Yelpers v Yelp: The Extortionist is Now Being Extorted

YELP is a known extortion scheme whereby businesses who decline to advertise wind up with their positive reviews filtered and their negative reviews made prominent. A cadre of so called elite Yelpers (chronically unemployed losers paid off with invitations to catered events) are Yelps hired guns who do the dirty work of defaming small businesses for them and shilling for advertisers. They helped this money losing sham of a business reap a huge IPO windfall and an absurd run-up in its stock price. No wonder they are now looking for a little payback.

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