A class action lawsuit has been filed against the organizers of Seattle convention Emerald City Comicon for using volunteer labor to support the show.  The suit, filed in King County Superior Court last week, was brought by former volunteer Jerry Michael Brooks on behalf of the class against Eitane Emerald Corp., which ran the convention, and members of the Demonakos family.  Former retailer Jim Demonakos founded the convention in 2003.

In 2015, the show was acquired by ReedPOP (see “ReedPOP Acquires Emerald City”), which took over operations in 2016.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of what the plaintiff estimates is at least 250 people who volunteered to work at the convention in 2014 and 2015.  The suit alleges that volunteers were not paid for their time, overtime, and break periods and were not paid the minimum wage, and asks for double the back wages, interest, costs and fees.

As we’ve noted in another recent context, non-profit companies are allowed to use volunteer labor; for-profit companies are not (see “Are ‘Magic’ Judges Employees?”). 

ReedPOP Senior Vice President Lance Fensterman told ICv2 that Emerald City had not been paying its volunteers, but once ReedPOP started operating the show, “volunteers” were paid.  We’d seen signs at ReedPOP show C2E2 for “volunteer” check-in, but ReedPOP’s “volunteers” are actually paid employees.  “We pay all ‘volunteers,’” Fensterman said.  “Because we pay them they are not really volunteers but the name kind of sticks.  We’ve been doing this for many years now.”   

Of course some shows, such as San Diego Comic-Con and Wondercon, are operated by non-profits and can use volunteers.  But for-profit shows that use volunteers may find themselves on the wrong end of a lawsuit. 

Geek culture has a history of volunteers, who are often passionate about their fan interests, in a variety of roles.  Two lawsuits were recently filed against Wizards of the Coast on behalf of judges for Magic:  The Gathering events, who are not paid (see “Are ‘Magic’ Judges Employees?”).  Now it appears that for-profit conventions using volunteers are the new target.