Yelp Sues Firm Over Allegedly Posting Fake Reviews

(Credit: Courtesy Julian McMillan)

Yelp is suing a San Diego law firm for allegedly seeding its Yelp page with "fake reviews" from non-existent clients.

Julian McMillan, who owns McMillan Law Group in San Diego, was served with the lawsuit last week. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco last month, claims firm employees "pretend to be clients and review their own employer on Yelp." The lawsuit names employees who have provided positive reviews on the McMillan Law Group Yelp page.

One of these reviews, as described in the lawsuit, states: "The entire firm staff was very helpful. I never felt uncomfortable asking questions throughout the process, and the staff was very informative. I was kept in the loop throughout my filing. I certainly recommend McMillan Law Group for a quick, efficient and pain-free bankruptcy experience. I am now back on my feet again financially thanks to the firm."

In an interview, McMillan said the lawsuit has "no merit." He said the lawsuit was filed "purely in retaliation" for his suit against Yelp in small claims court.

McMillan sued Yelp over a dispute over advertising McMillan had purchased on the website. McMillan claims that companies that don't advertise on Yelp are treated differently by the ratings website.

"They're an Internet bully and they abused their dominant Internet position for advertising contracts," he said. "Here they are trying to squash my freedom of speech in small claims court, which awarded me back $2,700 for my advertising contract."

On appeal, the judge said McMillan's small claim judgment should go to arbitration though the judge did not make a statement on merit of the lawsuit, McMillan said.

A spokeswoman for Yelp said their lawsuit against McMillan is "completely separate from the small claims court case, which, as you probably know, the judge overruled in Yelp's favor. We take an aggressive stance against business owners who are attempting to mislead consumers through fake reviews. This case is about one thing: holding the McMillan Law Group accountable for its attempts to deceive consumers. MLG's behavior is particularly disappointing given they have targeted some of the most vulnerable consumers of all: individuals who may be facing bankruptcy and who are using Yelp to find assistance."

Yelp's business depends on "providing trustworthy reviews to the public," the lawsuit claims. The San Francisco-based company is suing for breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relations and other actions. The amount Yelp demands exceeds $25,000, the company claims in the lawsuit.

This is Yelp's second complaint it filed against a business related to deceptive reviews. Yelp sued, a company that was selling fake reviews to businesses in an attempt to help them suppress their bad reviews, the Yelp spokeswoman said.

About the alleged fake reviews on his Yelp page, McMillan said he denies helping write any of those comments, nor telling employees to post them.

"With absolute confidence, I gave legal advice to anyone who ever gave us a Yelp review - whether somebody I knew or referral from a friend, daughter of a client who sat in a meeting, they're all legitimate," he said.

McMillan said he has about 120 to 150 clients a year. "I don't really have time to hop onto websites and goof around," he said.