WASHINGTON (CN) – Sports bloggers who earn as little as $3 a post writing for Vox can proceed with a class action against the online news outlet, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Represented by the law firm Jennings Sigmond, lead plaintiff Cheryl Bradley and other bloggers filed the suit last September against SB Nation, a sports-business subsidiary of the Vox empire.
Accusing Vox of having misclassified them as independent contractors, the workers said Vox violated labor laws requiring it to pay them minimum and overtime wages.
But Vox shot back that the workers’ own LinkedIn pages show that they did not consider themselves Vox employees.
Refusing to dismiss the complaint on this basis, however, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer called it “premature to consider whether Plaintiffs subjectively believed they were employees of Vox.”
The complaint says the decision to pay the bloggers as independent contractors rather than as employees came from three high-level Vox executives who have a conspicuous similarity: James Bankoff, Marty Moe and Lauren Fisher were all previously employed by America Online Inc. where they faced a similar lawsuit as well as faced an investigation by Labor Department over AOL’s failure to pay its “community leaders” as employees.
The bloggers say that Vox received numerous complaints from employees about their pay. In combination with the executives’ prior experience at AOL, the bloggers say Vox knew it classification of the bloggers as independent contractors was unlawful.
Collyer found the claims plausible enough to survive Vox’s bid to dismiss.
“After discovery, Vox may move for summary judgment on the issue of willfulness if the record supports it,” the ruling says. “For now, the plaintiffs may attempt to discover evidence to support their allegations.”
One of the plaintiffs, John Wakefield, earned $50 per month when he started covering the Leeds United Football Club. According to the ruling, he often worked 30 to 40 hours each week, and upwards of 60 hours during peak times, eventually earning $75 per month.
Attorneys with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who are representing Vox did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys at Jennings Sigmond said of the ruling by email: “We are pleased with the court’s ruling and we look forward to prosecuting our case on the merits.”