Phone Sex Operators Say They Are Making Less Than Minimum Wage

No matter what field you work in, we all have the right to make at least minimum wage. But phone-sex operators working for a Florida-based company claim in a lawsuit that they’re being paid far less for their intimate chat time.

In a complaint [PDF] filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the plaintiff claims that Tele Pay USA — a company whose overly bland name is incongruously attached to an image of a lingerie-clad model — pays its workers as little as $4.20 per hour, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The national minimum wage is currently $7.25/hour, though a number of states and cities have set higher minimums.

The workers contend that the allegedly low wages they receive are a small fraction of what Tele Pay charges. According to the lawsuit, callers pay as much as $5 per minute for the intimate chit-chat. That would be $300 for an hour of Tele Pay talk, per these numbers.

The plaintiffs say that Tele Pay portrays itself as a “booking agent” for actors who are seeking to provide “entertainment services” over the phone, with the purported purpose of negotiating and booking engagements for these actors — the engagement, of course, being a phone call between a customer and the sex-talk operators.

But there is no negotiation involved, the lawsuit alleges, and Tele Pay doesn’t book engagements. The plaintiff says that as an employee, she was hired to field calls on telephone sex chat lines and engage in sexually explicit talk for a fee that’s paid directly to Tele Pay.

She works from home, and is required by Tele Pay to keep a landline telephone, and stay within reach of it and her personal computer for certain periods of time to field customer calls, the lawsuit says.

In a typical week, the plaintiff usually fields dozens of calls, with a weekly call average of six minutes per call. But at that pace, she’s only paid about $0.10 per talk minute, the lawsuit claims.

Often when she fields the required calls, the length of her chats fall below an average of six minutes per call, at which point her hourly income drops to just $0.07 per minute, the lawsuit claims.

Other factors that are out of her control determine her hourly rate, the complaint claims: For example, even if it’s a prank call, dropped call, or just a silent call with no one talking on the other end, those calls get included in her average call length calculation.

According to the complaint, Tele Pay also makes it difficult “if not impossible” for the workers to track time and ensure they’re being paid properly.

“Tele Pay makes sure that Plaintiff cannot see a real time estimate of what her day’s average call time is until the following day,” when averages are calculated and posted online. But the suit claims that the statistics listed on that site are just an “estimate”: The final calculations are done at the end of the work week, on Sunday, making it “impossible for any actor to have an accurate accounting of their job performance and pay.”

The complaint also describes meetings convened by Tele Pay, where a man referenced as “Don” gives the employees pointers on what to say and how to keep their average call times up.

“He reminds them repeatedly, cajoling them over and over with the telephone sex talk mantra – ‘Remember, it’s not HOW MANY calls you take, but HOW LONG you keep these guys on the phone!’” the complaint claims.

Micro-managing is also an alleged problem: Tele Pay is accused of controlling “all aspects of each call,” ordering operators to answer the phone on the first ring, and “stressing how very important it is to pick up after the first ring or face termination.” The company also allegedly dispatches conduct tests almost daily to make sure operators are picking up immediately.

Not only that, but the phone-sex actors are spammed on a daily basis with several emails from Tele Pay, the complaint alleges, with subject lines like “Calls Coming in like Crazy! Log-In Now!”

The plaintiff also alleges that Tele Pay requires her and other workers to work overtime hours without compensating them for that work.

“Women are a core part of both the national and global economy,” the lawsuit states. “Unfortunately, the abuses and financial exploitation they experience often remain invisible. This is especially true for workers in female-dominated sectors of the economy such as sex talk workers. They are hidden from the public eye.”

The class-action suit is seeking to recover unpaid minimum hourly wages and compensation, unpaid overtime wages, and other compensation, including but not limited to wages for hours worked but not recorded or paid.

Consumerist has reached out to Tele Pay for comment on the allegations in this lawsuit, and we will update this post if we hear back.

[h/t Courthouse News]