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About.com Guide Lawsuit

Levinson et al. v. Primedia, Inc.

Read the 2002 amended complaint (full text)

Read the court's 2007 summary judgment (PDF)

Read the court's 2009 memorandum and order (PDF)

Read the Notice of Class Action (Web page, August 2009)

Updated January, 2011

by Durant Imboden

In March, 2002, 34 former and current About.com "Guides" filed a class-action suit in New York against About.com, Primedia (its former corporate owner), ex-About.com CEO Scott Kurnit, and unnamed "John Does." An amended complaint was filed in November, 2002, with 77 named plaintiffs, and the number of named plaintiffs later climbed to 79. Major claims in the lawsuit include violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, New York state labor laws, and breach of contract (including questionable accounting practices).

January, 2011: Checks were mailed to claimants on January 14. The long journey from filing of the lawsuit to payment of damages (in the form of settlement checks) is now complete.

October, 2010: The judge approved the proposed settlement, and by mid-January of 2011, checks should be mailed out to class members who filed claims forms before the court-mandated deadline. (Payments are being handled by Rust Consulting, the court-appointed claims and settlement administrator.)

July, 2010: The two sides have reached a settlement, and "Official Court Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action" was sent to class members by e-mail and postal mail on July 26. The proposed settlement of $5,750,000 covers "Guides who entered into a 1997 and/or 1999 contract with About but with whom the Lawsuit claims did not receive (1) proper compensation pursuant to those contracts or (2) the full wages they were required to be paid under state and/or federal laws."

Individual payments under the proposed settlement start at $750 for any "claiming Class Member" but can be considerably higher, depending on whether the claimant is entitled to unpaid revenue shares and/or  was involved in the prosecution of the case. (According to the Official Court Notice, 1,141 Class Members are "owed revenue share amounts pursuant to the 1997 and/or 1999 contracts.")

Class Members must file claim forms (which were sent out with the Official Court Notices) to receive payment. The deadline for filing is September 7, 2010. If you were an About.com Guide who signed a 1997 and/or 1999 contract, you should receive a notice by the end of July unless you've changed your both e-mail and postal addresses since your involvement with About.com. All inquiries should be directed to the court-appointed Claims Administrator:

ABOUT.COM LITIGATION
c/o Rust Consulting, Inc.
PO Box 186
Minneapolis, MN 55440-0186
Telephone (toll free) 1-866-590-8518

August, 2009: The court has issued a Notice of Class Action (click here to read or print). If you qualify as a member of the class, you don't need to do anything unless you choose to opt out of the lawsuit. If you do want to opt out, you'll need to follow the instructions in the notice.

April, 2009: On April 13, 2009, Judge Deborah A. Batts issued a memorandum and order (Adobe PDF format) that moved the case forward in several ways:

  • The lawsuit was certified as a class action. The class includes all guides who signed the 1997 and/or 1999 Mining Co./About.com guide contracts and were not fully paid according to the revenue-sharing formula spelled out in the contract(s). The number of potential class members is estimated to be in the 1,800 range.

  • Our attorneys, Leon Greenberg and Michael Shen, were appointed class counsel.

  • The judge agreed to consider a motion for a partial summary judgment and set a timetable for expert opinions and depositions on what damages might be owed if a judgment were granted. (The partial summary judgment, if granted, would cover damages owed as a result of the August, 2007 summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs on the compensation issue.)

The next steps are to obtain expert opinions on what compensation might be due under a partial summary judgment, followed by motions and related court papers. As I understand it, the case should be back in the judge's hands by September 1, 2009. The timeline of future events will depend on the court, but it's possible that plaintiffs might see a ruling on the partial summary judgment by the end of 2009 and a trial in 2010.

August, 2007: On August 9, 1007, Judge Deborah A. Batts granted a claim for summary judgment to the plaintiffs on a major accounting issue (how to calculate each guide's share of the "revenue pool"). See 2007 court decision (Adobe PDF format).

Why this lawsuit is of interest to writers:

For writers, key issues in the case include claims of fraudulent or "fictititous" accounting and failure to pay contractually required earnings. See the Wired News story, About.com That Labor Lawsuit, for an interview with the lead attorney in the case.

Read the 2002 amended complaint (full text)

Read the court's 2007 summary judgment (PDF)

Read the court's 2009 memorandum and order (PDF)