Not Again, Blogger Says in 2nd Class Action
HONOLULU (CN) - A settling plaintiff in a class action against America Online claims, in another class action, that a company "affiliated with AOL" offered her work as a blogger - then told her nine months later that she wouldn't be paid for it.
Lead plaintiff Lottie K. Tagupa sued VIPdesk Inc. in Federal Court.
The company itself is the only defendant.
Tagupa says in the lawsuit that VIPdesk "was affiliated with AOL," though a search of several VIPdesk Internet pages this morning did not turn up any claims from the company that it is affiliated with America Online. VIPdesk describes itself on its Facebook page as "a leading provider of customer loyalty solutions for premium brands."
Tagupa claims VIPdesk "asserted pressure" on its "remote concierges" to submit blogs to beef up its clients' websites, then "shocked" its employees nine months later by refusing to pay them for it.
Tagupa says she began working for VIPdesk in 2005 as a "remote concierge," a home-based customer service rep / web-based call center tech.
She worked full-time and received raises until she was making $9.89 an hour plus $3 for each per completed request, she says in the complaint.
In June 2010, Tagupa claims, VIPdesk senior vice president Tim Gordon sent its nationwide employees the following email: "As we mentioned on our all-concierge call last week, VIPdesk is redesigning its clients' websites to increase the ease of use, improve the overall look and feel, and add some enhancements. One of these enhancements will be a weekly blog.
"Our plan is to have a new blog posted each week. The blog should be something of interest to the customer visiting the website. It could be about a great experience you had in a particular hotel or restaurant, or it could be about an amazing trip you recently took. The possibilities are endless!
"So, I am looking for volunteers to help write the blogs. I am only looking for one blog from each volunteer (although if you would like to submit more you are certainly welcome!). Once I get a list of volunteers I will send out a set of guidelines and deadlines.
"If you are interested, please send me an email along with a topic (or topics) you think you might like to write about, no later than this Friday, June 18th.
"P.S. If you can't think of a topic but are still interested in writing, that's fine -just let me know and we'll work out a topic together."
Tagupa says she immediately submitted 15 blogs, with photos, "which were accepted, approved and posted by defendant on its website," then prepared another 52 blogs, also with photos, "in order to be considered a team player and assist defendant in maximizing its bottom line."
After citing more emails from supervisors, covering nine months, Tagupa's complaint states: "In order to stay in defendant's good graces and be eligible to receive raises or a promotion in the future, plaintiff worked very hard to prepare and submit as many blogs as possible which defendant greatly appreciated. Defendant derived direct and substantial benefits from its 'volunteers' work without having to pay for it, and as the above emails indicate, defendant asserted pressure on employees to submit blogs.
"On March 1, 2011 one of several blog meetings was held via telephone conference with defendant's client manager Melissa Carpenter and nationwide employee bloggers. After the meeting, client manager Melissa Carpenter emailed nationwide employees and submitted an attachment that stated as to payment for the blogs, '[a]t this time, the Concierge Blog is a purely volunteer project to be done in your own free time.' Plaintiff was shocked because defendant was affiliated with AOL, who had just settled its lawsuit for not paying employee 'volunteers' for fifteen million dollars in Hallissey et al. v. America Online, Inc. et al. Plaintiff was a class action plaintiff in the Hallissey case and received a settlement along with other plaintiffs in that lawsuit.
"On March 2, 2011 plaintiff engaged in protected activity when she informed her immediate supervisor manager Eleu Ornellas and supervisor manager Rob Alexander that it was 'illegal' for defendant not to pay employees for the work performed researching, writing, and obtaining photographs for the blogs because they were non-exempt hourly employees working for a 'for-profit' company. Both informed plaintiff that she was a 'volunteer' and nothing was done about plaintiff's report of illegal non-payment to employee bloggers, including plaintiff."
That day, March 2, 2011, Tagupa says, she complained to the U.S. Department of Labor. "The United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division opened an investigation into plaintiff's reports," she says in the complaint.
Tagupa says she continued complaining about the labor violations through August 2011, when Robert Alexander admonished her in an email, saying she had "turned negative."
She says she was fired on a teleconference call in September 2011.
Tagupa claims VIPdesk owes her $30,926 for her blogs, plus $791 in expenses.
She also seeks damages for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act violations, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and wrongful termination.
She is represented by Venetia Carpenter-Asui.