After years of complaints by freelancers against magazine brand L’Officiel, New York City officials took surprise action at the end of last year.
The City of New York sued L’Officiel USA Inc., the American subsidiary of the French-owned global media company that operates several print and digital magazines, for failing to pay freelancers on time — and some at all — through the The New York City Freelance Isn’t Free Act. It requires a hiring party to pay the freelance worker for the services provided on or before the date the compensation is due under the contract, or if the contract does not specify, no later than 30 days after the completion of the freelance worker’s services under the contract.
While the law established a court navigation program as one avenue to assist freelancers in getting paid and accessing other resources, it also authorizes the city to file cases against businesses with a systemic pattern and practice of violating the law.
In the suit, it said the affected freelance workers, and the city as a whole, have suffered injury as a direct result of L’Officiel’s actions and that the city is entitled to injunctive relief, civil penalties and any other appropriate relief, while the injured freelance workers are entitled to recover double damages for violation of the payment provisions of FIFA.
“Freelancers are a valued part of New York City’s workforce and their work isn’t free,” said then-Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We will not allow L’Officiel to get away with reaping the benefits of our talented freelancers without paying them for their hard work. To those who break the law: New York City will hold you accountable.”
Corporation Counsel Georgia M. Pestana added: “Our first of a kind suit seeks to hold L’Officiel responsible for its consistent and blatant disregard of the city’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which was enacted to address a growing problem faced by the freelance community in New York City.”
Freelancers have sued media companies in the past with the help of unions. In 2018, publishers including The New York Times, Dow Jones and Knight Ridder shelled out $9 million to freelancers after a 17-year-long legal battle, while Ebony Media Operations paid out $80,000 to freelancers.
But this is the first time New York City has sued a media company through FIFA, which was set up in 2017, and media outlets will no doubt be watching the outcome of this suit closely and wondering if more publishers could now be targeted through FIFA. The suit could also scare publishers into paying freelancers on time.
Rafael Espinal, president of Freelancers Union, said: “The recent action against L’Officiel is a warning to all publishers that the City of New York is willing and able to take action against any company stiffing or considering not to pay freelancers on time. The Freelance isn’t Free Act requires all businesses to provide a contract with a net pay of 30 days, and gives freelancers recourse through the city to collect from clients who don’t pay on time. More publishers can be targeted and will be targeted, but it is up to the freelancer to file that complaint and bring those issues to light. Luckily the law also protects freelancers from retribution.”
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