Filed in a Los Angeles district court, the suit says Yelp simply designates its contributors as „independent contractors,“ „interns,“ „volunteers“ or „contributors“ — not actual employees, therefore violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
„[Yelp] could not exist, nor make its enormous returns, without its domination and control over non-wage writers,“ the filing said, even quoting one of the company’s co-founders, who said that „without the community of reviewers, there is no Yelp.“
All of the case’s plaintiffs, including Dr. Allen Panzer, Amy Sayers, Lily Jeung, and Darren Walchesky, claim to have worked a substantial number of hours for Yelp over many years, without being paid a cent for writing, researching, and editing reviews, upgrading prior reviews, and generally promoting the site.
Yelp, however, was not convinced. „This is a textbook example of a frivolous lawsuit; it is unfortunate the court has to waste its time adjudicating it and we will seek to have it dismissed,“ a spokesman said in a statement emailed to PCMag.
„The argument that voluntarily using a free service equates to an employment relationship is completely without merit, unsupported by law and contradicted by the dozens of websites like Yelp that consumers use to help one another,“ the Yelp spokesman continued. „We believe this suit is probably a result of the enforcement action we were required to take against some of the plaintiffs for improper conduct rather than based on any real merit.“
Panzer, the lead plaintiff in the case, has written about 70 reviews for Yelp since November 2007, according to the suit, which also states that Yelp averages 108 million visitors per month, and offers more than 42 million reviews.
„The misclassification of employees as something other than employees, whether they go by such monikers as volunteers, independent contractors, interns, contributors, free-lance writers, reviewers, elites or Yelpers, presents a serious problem for affected employees, employers, and to the entire economy,“ the suit said.
According to the suit, Yelp is basically cheating the government by not paying contributors since the feds lose Social Security and Medicare funds.
The lawsuit seeks unpaid wages, expenditure reimbursement, liquidated and statutory damage, and attorneys‘ fees. A final compensation amount was not revealed.
In related news, Amazon is under fire for reportedly providing free merchandise to its elite reviewers. According to an NPR report, Amazon runs an invitation-only program for the site’s top reviewers, called Amazon Vine. Members can choose items from a monthly list and are required to write a review within 30 days. Then they get to keep the merchandise.
The Vine program, a company spokesman told NPR, was created to offer a more well-rounded population of reviews, which tend to have fewer stars.
For more, check out PCMag Live from today in the video below, where PCMag’s Sascha Segan and special guest Coco Rocha discuss the Yelp and Amazon review controversies.