L.A.-based Insomniac Events said this week it will fight a federal lawsuit claiming that the rave promoter used festival volunteers as regular workers without giving them pay, meal breaks or time to rest. The filing also alleges that volunteers had to submit credit cards that would be charged if duties weren't performed as promised.
See also: Nocturnal Wonderland 2013
Volunteers who help out in exchange for tickets are a staple of concerts, fairs and film festivals, so the case could have wide-ranging and costly implications for the entertainment business if it's successful.
Insomniac spokeswoman Jennifer Forkish had this to say:
We're really disappointed to hear about this lawsuit. There are thousands of current and former Insomniac volunteers who are expressing their outrage online over this suit, as well as their desire to continue volunteering at our events. We appreciate the support of these individuals and intend to vigorously defend [our case].
The suit was filed on behalf of Elizabeth Valladares, who volunteered to work at Insomniac's Nocturnal Wonderland festival on September 21, 2013. It was held at San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino.
The suit, originally filed in San Bernardino County in March, was moved to federal court in April at the behest of Insomniac's attorneys. It seeks class action status, which means that other Insomniac volunteers - estimated to number in the thousands - might be able to join the suit.
The plaintiff's attorneys allege that Insomniac has been using volunteers who should have been compensated for at least four years prior to that September fest.
The suit says Valladares worked more than 14 hours that day with no mandated rest breaks and only one meal break. It says she witnessed other volunteers who got no rest or meal breaks.
The woman had to submit a credit card, which would be charged the cost of a ticket and service fees, $89, if she didn't perform committed duties, the suit says. Valladares also had to submit her ID card for the duration of her time at the event, her attorneys say.
"They make them give them a credit card," one of the plaintiff's attorneys, Lou Marlin, told us. "And they charge the credit card if you don't show up for work. It's pretty amazing stuff."
The free, $80 ticket is worth $5.70 an hour for 14 hours of work (if it was work); and $10 an hour, which is more than California's $8 minimum wage, for 8 hours of work (again, if work is what it was).
Interns can legally do unpaid work, but Marlin told us that the time has to primarily benefit students, not employers.
"The intern has to be given the opportunity to learn," he said. "They can't just be serving coffee to the boss. These people aren't given that opportunity. They're free labor."
The filing says Insomniac volunteer recruitment material read like this:
Night Owls will receive meals, water, parking and time off to enjoy the festival ... Night Owls also learn about the inner workings of festival production.
But, the suit argues:
Plaintiff was not provided with valuable internship-quality training, but rather was simply expected to perform general customer service and shop keeping duties.
Valladares worked at a "general store" where glow sticks, cigarettes, lighters, feminine hygiene products and other items were sold, the suit says.
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Other volunteers worked at merchandise stands to sell t-shirts and hats, water stations where $10 bottles were refilled for free, information booths, and at greeter posts, the claim says.
The suit doesn't put a number on possible damages, but it says the plaintiff seeks to ...
... force defendants to stop soliciting and accepting work from volunteer employees, recover unpaid wages for all volunteer employees who performed work for Insomniac during the relevant period, and recover other damages based on defendants' willful misrepresentations and deceit of unpaid volunteers and violations of applicable labor laws.