This Out magazine freelancer got paid, thanks to the Freelance Isn't Free law

Mar 26, 2019

The second anniversary of the Freelance Isn't Free law is coming up on May 15, and we're celebrating with your success stories. To help us provide a pathway for more freelancers to use the law, share your experience at advocacy@freelancersunion.org.

When Out magazine needed a copy editor and fact checker last summer, Steven Pearl stepped in. He had been a staffer at the nation’s largest LGBTQ monthly 20 years earlier and was excited to accept an agreement via email with the magazine’s editor in chief to return as a remote subcontractor.

For two issues, everything went fine. Steven did the work and was paid via ClickPay by McCarthly LLC — which he later learned was also a subcontractor employed by the owners of Out, Pride Media Inc.

The arrangement struck Steven as unusual but not alarming — until the payments for the rest of his work stopped coming. His first inquiries about unpaid invoices were met with promises that the money was on its way, but then came the accusations. “Basically Pride said that McCarthy should pay me, and McCarthy said that Pride hadn’t paid them, so in turn they couldn’t pay me,” says Steven. “I was owed a little over $1,000, but even beyond the money, I just found the treatment reprehensible. I was in shock.”

Radio silence

Steven’s inquiries were increasingly met with radio silence after October, and he contacted the Freelancers Union shortly before Thanksgiving. Upon our advice, he filed a complaint against Pride Media with New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), letting both Pride and McCarthy know he hoped to be paid before any further action was necessary. “I knew about Freelance Isn’t Free, but the law hadn’t immediately come to mind,” he says. “I filed against only Pride because they owned the magazine, and I hadn’t signed a contract saying McCarthy would pay me.”

That December, the DCA received an official response from Pride that denied responsibility and attempted to find a loophole. “They said that was the first that they had heard of my ‘claim,’ ” says Steven. “They also said that they didn’t have a contract with me and that my ‘contract’ was actually with another Out subcontractor that pre-dated McCarthy.” This was despite the fact that Steven had written to Pride numerous times and had been corresponding with the exact Pride associate who responded to DCA beginning in October.

A growing movement

As it became clear that disentangling who was to blame would be all but impossible, Steven filed a claim against both Pride and McCarthy in Small Claims Court — where lawyers aren’t needed and rarely used — in January. He also became aware of a growing movement of freelancers who were owed by Pride Media, and heard that many had walked away out of frustration. He refused to be one of them: “I realized they would ignore you unless you kept making yourself heard.”

Due diligence

Before picking a trial date in February, Steven avoided any additional loopholes by checking Pride and McCarthy’s summons addresses in person. “McCarthy had moved at least once, and the DCA had received returned, ‘undeliverable’ mail from them,” he says. “So I showed up at their office to confirm their address.”

Even so, McCarthy did not show up at the trial. Pride did, however, and submitted its contracts with McCarthy as evidence that it wasn’t liable for payment. When Steven submitted emails from the company’s CEO showing Pride’s early intention of paying, the judge offered to adjourn the case until the CEO could fly in to sufficiently answer her questions about the company’s promises. Everyone agreed, and the judge adjourned the trial until the following week.

A breakthrough

Then something unexpected happened. “Lo and behold — within 24 hours, days before the trial was set to resume — I got an email from Pride responding to a mid-November email saying the company was cutting me a check immediately,” says Steven. “After weeks and months of waiting, cajoling, demanding, and then taking legal action, they messengered me payment that very day and I deposited it into my bank by 6 pm.”

Lessons

Steven says he learned more than he expected to, specifically citing how to be simultaneously tenacious and patient in pursuing payment no matter what obstacles he faced along the way. “I had to adjust my point of view, not to mention my checkbook, when I realized getting paid was going to be a matter of months instead of weeks.”

He also came to deeply value the freelance community, whether by talking with others pursuing payment from Out, discussing his case with New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, or connecting with the Freelancers Union. “It’s really empowering when you go from fighting for what’s right solo to joining together with others to get fair treatment.”

Like the law that he hopes becomes universal says, freelance isn’t free. Even when reality isn’t that simple, the concept behind the law is: “When freelancers are hired and successfully complete a job, they should be paid,” says Steven. “Full stop.”

With Freelance Isn't Free in place and the determination to use it when needed, we’re all better off because of it.

Share your Freelance Isn't Free success story at advocacy@freelancersunion.org.