US court rules Yelp reviewers are not employees

US District Judge Richard Seeborg has dismissed a class action against Yelp in which a group of reviewers sought to be considered employees and therefore be compensated as such.

Case law-judge-2015

In the case of Lily Jeung, et al., vs Yelp. the claimants alleged that they were ‘directed how to write reviews and given other such employee direction’ from Yelp, which also controlled their ‘work schedule and conditions’.

Two of the three claimants bringing the class action also claimed to have been ‘fired’ by the organisation.

In the judgement, Seeborg said it could be inferred that the term ‘hired’ referred to the process by which members of the public could sign up to Yelp to leave reviews, while ‘fired’ referred to user accounts being involuntarily closed.

While the plaintiffs claimed that Yelp had a legal duty to treat them as employees under the Fair Labour Standards Act, the judge found that submitting reviews could not be characterised as performing a service for Yelp, or at best could be viewed as acts of volunteerism.

It was also noted that even if Yelp profited financially from reviews written by the plaintiffs, for example through third-party advertising on the website, this did not necessarily mean that the writers are performing a service for the organisation.

The claimants also raised a motion for sanctions against Yelp and its counsel on the basis that they did not engage in court-ordered mediation sessions in good faith.

This motion has been dismissed on the grounds that the plintiffs failed ‘to make a persuasive showing’ that the defendant or its counsel engaged in sanctionable misconduct.

The judgement stated: ‘Portions of plaintiffs’ complaint, and much of their briefing, focus on the legal distinctions between employees and independent contractors. Those allegations and arguments are misdirected. The issue is not whether Yelp is treating as independent contractors individuals who actually qualify as employees.

‘The relevant questions are whether plaintiffs can be seen as working for Yelp at all, and, if so, whether they are employees as opposed to volunteers, not employees as opposed to independent contractors.’