Yelp Inc.—the website that allows almost anyone to review businesses around the world—is nothing more than a bully, according to one unhappy customer who happens to be a lawyer.
Julian McMillan, who owns a small law firm in San Diego, sued Yelp in small claims court earlier this year, claiming the company did not follow through with their agreement when he bought ads to promote his business on the site. A judge agreed with McMillan’s claims and ordered Yelp to pay McMillan $2,700 as reimbursement for money he spent on the ads. Yelp appealed, arguing that neither McMillan nor the judge understand Yelp’s contract.
And this is where the story takes a strange turn.
In August, days before Yelp’s appeal was set to go to court, the Internet company filed suit against McMillan for reasons completely unrelated to the ads dispute. Yelp claimed in this second suit that McMillan planted fake reviews of his own law firm, in violation of Yelp’s terms of service. McMillan says this suit is nothing more than a bully looking to retaliate.
Yelp says in its suit that back in 2010, McMillan’s employees posted positive reviews of the firm, claiming the reviews were posted from the building in which McMillan’s firm is located, and says McMillan belonged to a group of lawyers who posted positive reviews of each other. Yelp may seek as much as $25,000 in damages.
“This is their way of swatting down a gnat,” McMillan told BloombergBusinessweek. “They’re trying to get me to spend money because they want to give pause to the next business that sues them.”
Yelp contends that the timing of the suit has nothing to do with McMillan’s earlier victory against the company. “We take a very aggressive stance against all attempts to mislead consumers,” Yelp spokeswoman Kristen Whisenand said in an e-mail to BloombergBusinessweek. “McMillan’s behavior is particularly disappointing given they have targeted some of the most vulnerable consumers of all: individuals who are at risk of losing everything and are using Yelp to find assistance.”
Historically, Yelp isn’t known as a company to sue for fake reviews. In fact, it has an algorithm in place specifically to weed out the phonies. So Yelp’s suit against McMillan begs the question: Is this the beginning of many suits against merchants to come from Yelp or is this just a loser looking for revenge?
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