Thursday, December 6, 2012

Don't Yelp Too Loudly or You'll Get Sued

Although I do not do it often, on occasion I have gone on websites like Yelp to look up a particular business -- like my gym or a hotel -- to see what other people have to say about the quality of the services, the goods being sold, the facilities, etc. I don' think I have ever written off a business based on what I read. I just take it as a piece of a puzzle, and there are lots of other pieces that need to be in place before I decide whether or not I will patronize the business.

Apparently, however, one business owner DID lose business based on one review written by a customer. At least, he claims to have lost business -- a LOT of it, in fact. Here's a video of a local news report.

Jane Perez, who lives not far from my own home, was unhappy with work that a D.C. contractor named Dietz did in her town home in summer of 2011. So, she wrote scathing reviews on both Yelp and Angie's List, claiming amongst other things that he stole jewelry from her. Perez and Dietz had gone to high school together, but apparently there is no love lost between them now. Here is what Dietz posted on one website.

The 27-page Complaint that Dietz filed in his civil suit is accessible on the Washington Post website.

Yesterday, a Fairfax Circuit Court judge ordered Perez to remove several snippets from the Angie's list posting above (she had already voluntarily removed the Yelp posting). Still, the case is not over by a long shot, even though Dietz feels the hearing yesterday was a victory for him.

The crux of the suit will be whether the right to free speech and expression trumps the right to a good reputation and freedom from being harmed in one's business pursuits. Only one of those rights is mentioned in the Constitution. Dietz should probably review the old adage:  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. He has hurled a big stone at Ms. Perez, and, like it or not, she is gathering an army of support. Indeed, Dietz's heavy-handed retaliation has probably caused his company more damage than Perez's emotion-based ravings ever could have.


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