October 24, 2001
SUING IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT…AND WINNING! by Marianne Mancusi
The swirling leaves blanket my windshield like rain, swept up in a random dance by the truck in front of me. Other leaves, not yet ready to fall, blanket the candy colored forest that flanks the Pennsylvania road on which I travel. But I am not here for the scenery. I'm not a leaf peeper, come from California to gawk as trees shed their garments in preparation for the oncoming snow. I am going to war.
My steed -- a rented Chevy Cavalier. The enemy - one Raj Sawhney, owner of the writer's agency L2S. The plunder - over $5,000 in back pay for writing services rendered in February.
But it is more than gold I'm after. It is also a crusade, fought for every broken-hearted writer who faithfully treks to his or her mailbox each day and each day learns anew that the check in our post-dot.com society will never come.
But I digress. The reason I am here is to go before a small claims court. I am nervous. I, like many writers, hate confrontations. I would much prefer to hide away in my home office and write for free than defend myself in court. But because my landlord insists on that check every month and the cupboards don't fill themselves with food, I must forgo my shyness and face the enemy head on.
I have never been to small claims court. I don't know exactly how it Works, though visions of Judge Judy dance through my head as I wait for court to be in session. I don't want to be here but I know my reasons are just. I, under contract with L2S, wrote articles for Internet site Office.com. L2S purchased the articles from me and then re-sold them to Office.com. When Office.com filed Chapter 11, L2S, though still in business, also refused to pay its writers.
I'm not trying to say Raj of L2S is a bad guy. He walks into the court and greets me. "Nice to meet you," he says, inquiring how my flight was. He is nice. Too nice. Makes me feel bad for suing him. But at the same time, I know while I worked for him, he profited immensely as the middleman, taking a large percentage of profits for each article. What's even worse is that these articles are still up on the Office.com web site.
Court begins. Luckily, Raj does not protest the case. He agrees that the money owed is the correct figure and the judge rules in my favor. I find out that this is the second time Raj has been at the court that month and that another writer has also sued him.
The judge, after delivering his verdict, asks incredulously if I came all the way from California just for this. "You aren't visiting friends?" he asks. "On vacation?"
My face darkens into a deep blush as I shake my head. Raj and the judge exchange bemused looks. And I hate them both.
On the way out Raj stops me and tells me that no matter what the judge says, his company has no money to pay writers. So even though I won, I should understand that I will probably not get paid -- at least for some time. He tells me I should have just waited like the other writers, for him to come up with a payment plan himself instead of going to all the trouble of getting a court order.
I nod, feeling stupid, embarrassed. Was he right? Was it a wasted trip? Had I made a fool out of myself? I flee the courthouse. The skies open up, echoing my sentiments, and rain pours buckets onto the Pennsylvania streets. As I drive back to my hotel, the once candy colored trees look dismal and yellowed under the darkened skies, proclaiming their imminent fall from grace.
But as I drive, a thought comes to me. This isn't just about $5,000 that I may never see. I made a stand. I fought against the injustices all writers face. I stood up and proclaimed that these companies can not get away with screwing writers. We will fight. The law is on our side. We will not hole up in our home offices and accept the fact that we were ripped off once again.
So even if I never get a dime, I know I did the right thing. And I hope my example will serve to provide comfort and hope to those other writers out there, waiting by their mailboxes. We aren't powerless. We won't accept less than is owed to us. We will prevail.
Marianne Mancusi is a freelance writer from San Diego, California. She has written articles for a variety of print and Internet publications including Worth, American Profile, Penthouse, Wells Fargo Small Business Advisor, Dog and Kennel, Dog World, Prevention File, Office.com and Student.com. She is currently shopping for representation for her recently completed contemporary romance novel, Sandcastles in Stone.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: We have received complaints about L2S not paying writers who wrote for office.com. Marianne's case proves once again that just because a firm's client doesn't pay them doesn't mean they can stiff their writers.
We congratulate Marianne on her victory. Yet, more importantly, we admire her bravery and her determination to put her fears aside to help all freelancers. Please send your congrats and thanks to Marianne at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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