Federal Judge Applies Common Sense, Decides Yelp Reviewers Are Not Employees

Last year, we shared the news that a group of Yelp reviewers whose accounts had been deactivated were suing the website for back wages. The ex-reviewers claimed that they had performed the functions of an employee, with guidance and critique from Yelp management, by providing content that the site could sell ads against. U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed the case last week

One major problem is that it wasn’t quite clear to the judge what the plaintiffs were after; the original complaint seems to ask for minimum wage for every Yelp review ever written. He gave their work on this case a metaphorical one-star rating, calling their filings “rambling and invective-filled papers.”

It also may help that the judge, or maybe one of his clerks, has actually used Yelp before. The class action attempted to frame registering for a Yelp account and writing reviews as being “hired” by the site, which is not how employment works under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, or in any rational universe. As the decision puts it:

A reasonable inference to be drawn from the complaint, and from plaintiffs’ arguments, is plaintiffs use the term “hired” to refer to a process by which any member of the public can sign up for an account on the Yelp website and submit reviews, and the term “fired” to refer to having their accounts involuntarily closed, presumably for conduct that Yelp contends breached its terms of service agreement.

In summary, writing Yelp reviews is a voluntary activity that people do for fun. Giving you “Elite” status and inviting you to parties does not make it a job. Even if Yelp does sell ads against user reviews, that doesn’t necessarily mean that users are providing a service for Yelp: no one asked them to

Jeung et al. v. Yelp Inc. [Decision] (via Courthouse News)

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