Ex-Yelper Helps Law Firms Go After Yelp

Yelp could be slapped with more lawsuits if one former Yelp reviewer who runs the YelpLawsuit.com site has anything to do with it. Several plaintiffs have been added to a recent lawsuit filed against the local review site, but hundreds of potential plaintiffs could be waiting in the wings to become part of future suits.

A lawsuit filed recently on behalf of California-based Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital has now been joined by nine additional small businesses, including Sofa Outlet, Le Petite Retreat Day Spa, and Scion Restaurant. The suit, like another filed against Yelp by D’ames Day Spa of California, alleges Yelp alters content on business listing pages in order to favor paying advertisers.

The suit states, “the company asks business owners for ‘protection’ from bad reviews (in the form of advertising dollars) while Yelp controls whether bad reviews are posted in the first place-the classic scheme of offering ‘protection’ from a problem that the ‘protector’ himself creates.” The suit also alleges Yelp removes or relocates negative reviews and creates positive reviews for advertisers.

“Yelp does not manipulate review content to help advertisers or hurt businesses that don’t. Never have, never will,” stated the company in its most recent post regarding its legal woes, posted yesterday.

In order to ensure the validity of its reviews, Yelp keeps a watchful eye on who is posting those reviews in order to prevent sales of positive reviews by phony reviewers. About two years ago, Adryenn Ashley was labeled as a phony reviewer, or spammer, by the site, though she claims she did not violate Yelp’s terms of service. After discussing the issue with the company but not getting the simple “apology” she said she requested, Ashley decided to launch two anti-Yelp Web sites. Ashley also runs a service claiming to help businesses “outsmart Yelp” on her Wow! Is Me site.

“What they were doing was wrong, and I knew that people wanted to do something about it…I said, fine, I’ll take a leadership position,” she said.

Yelp-Sucks.com is dedicated to allowing dissatisfied Yelpers vent their complaints about the site; yet, several forums and blogs around the Web feature gripes from reviewers or small businesspeople about Yelp. Ashley’s second Yelp site, YelpLawsuit.com, serves a far more potentially damaging purpose – collecting names of alleged victims of Yelp’s practices for a federal class action suit against the company.

“Now that the class action suit has been filed, it is even more imperative that we gather information on the victims from around the country,” states Yelp-Sucks.com. “I know for many of you this has been a long time coming, but rest assured, Yelp WILL have to answer for their business practices.” The site requires interested parties to submit their first names and e-mail addresses.

Ashley said lately she’s received between five and 10 submissions each day, and has collected “over 1,000” potential plaintiffs’ names over the past two years. “I am working on a discovery strategy for a law firm,” she told ClickZ News.

What’s more, she claims she has been contacted by “at least five [law firms] in the last month,” asking for her to provide the list of names she’s compiled. Ashley would not name any of the law firms she has been in contact with regarding the Yelp situation. “I’m just a point of reference for all of them,” she explained, stressing that they have come to her. “They can all call me and I will introduce them to the list. Not one law firm is going to be able to handle all these people.”

Law firm Girard Gibbs LLP could be one of those interested firms. Spotting a potential lawsuit in the negative experiences some businesses have had with the site, the company operates its own Yelp suit plaintiff discovery process. Girard Gibbs recently advertised on Google, targeting ads promoting its “Yelp Legal Investigation,” against searches for terms including “Yelp lies” and “Yelp lawsuits.”

You can follow Kate Kaye on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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