Sports blogging can be an unrequited love. While a select few have made careers out of covering sports online, the vast majority, those that create most of the content and account for most of the traffic, are underpaid, if they're paid at all. A Deadspin report on sports blogging empire SB Nation last year noted that "Many, perhaps even most, contributors do not get paid; no one is paid well."
Weeks after that piece published, Cheryl Bradley, a site manager at SB Nation Colorado Avalanche blog Mile High Hockey, filed a lawsuit against SB Nation parent company Vox Media, claiming federal wage and hour law violations. This week, a judge refused to dismiss the case, ruling that there were legitimate questions about whether the bloggers and site managers were Vox employees or independent contractors.
Blogs and Wages
Bradley's lawsuit claims she regularly worked 30-40 hours per week, writing five or six posts, managing and editing other writers, and monitoring search engine optimization data. And for this she was compensated $125 a month. And Bradley claims she wasn't the only one -- she filed her suit as a class action, alleging there were other similarly situated writers and site managers routinely paid less than the minimum wage and denied overtime pay.
Vox's defense is that the bloggers are not employees, and therefore not covered under federal wage and hour statutes. The company claims that the failure of three plaintiffs to say they were Vox employees on their LinkedIn profile pages is sufficient to prove they "did not consider themselves to be employees."
Bloggers and Employees
But U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer disagreed:
It is premature to consider whether Plaintiffs subjectively believed they were employees of Vox. The Court also realizes that LinkedIn profiles generally consist of self-reported employment information. However, at this point in the litigation, the Court cannot find that the accuracy of the information contained in these screen shots can be "verifiable with certainty."
The court also declined to enforce a two-year statute of limitations on the claims, finding that the plaintiffs had raised issues of inadequate pay long before the lawsuit was filed. Significantly, the complaint notes that three high-level Vox executives -- James Bankoff, Lauren Fisher, and Marty Moe -- were all previously employed by America Online where they faced a similar lawsuit and a Department of Labor investigation over AOL's failure to pay "community leaders" as employees.
The bloggers' suit claims numerous complaints about their pay, paired with those executives' prior experience at AOL, mean that Vox knew classifying the writers and site managers as independent contractors rather than employees was unlawful.