The online reviews site Yelp has a cadre of prolific “Elite” members who receive loads of real-life swag from partners as their “semi-celebrity” status blossoms, but one thing they don’t get is money. Yelp has a class of neighborhood-pioneering reviewers called “Scouts,” however, and those people get paid for their reviews, so now there’s a lawsuit arguing Elites “perform the exact same work” as Scouts and should be compensated as such.
The underlying argument is about providing a valuable service. Creative writing isn’t easy, after all, and coming up with all those nonessential, noncritical narratives about your cousin’s totally genuine lime-ade allergy or the waiter who seemed creepy until he revealed himself to be a Quantum Leap fan-fic writer right after he dumped scallopini on your lap take real skill to craft, and besides, unpaid work runs afoul of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
It’s unclear how much cash the plaintiffs might be looking to win in court, but any outcome in their favor would clearly change Yelp as we know it: “This is a lawsuit merely to provide the wages to all writers of Yelp and not just the ones which Yelp, Inc. chooses to pay in wages,” legal papers state. As such it continues to seemingly be bad news for anyone contending with random critics while trying to run a small business like a café, but a potential windfall for anyone who ever issued a one-star warning to steer clear of the place because they got a splinter on the front bench while waiting to get inside.