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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Sued For Exploiting Volunteers [Update]

Illustration for article titled Rock n Roll Marathon Sued For Exploiting Volunteers [Update]

Competitor Group, Inc., which owns the nationwide Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon series, has had a class-action suit brought against it for an alleged violation of federal and state labor practices. The plaintiff claims she and others across the country volunteered because they thought CGI was a hearts-and-rainbows non-profit instead of the Walmart of distance running.


The suit, filed September 23, tells the story of Yvette Joy Liebesman, cyclist and associate professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law. Liebesman got up really early on the morning of October 21, 2012, and rode her bike at the front of the St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon as an official escort for the lead runners. She was required to provide her own cellphone and a hands-free device, she says. It was a position for which she volunteered.

In the suit, Liebesman's attorneys argue that CGI, a for-profit company, recruits volunteers like Liebesman by obscuring its status in its marketing and communication. It does this by selling "Official Charity" sponsorships, the suit alleges, paid for in the form of a minimum 10 runners at $165 each. The charity names are then further used to help recruit volunteers, who believe they are part of Something Bigger Than Themselves instead of unpaid labor used to drive profits up, up, up.


Profits are up. Estimated to have drawn $125 million in revenue in 2012, CGI was sold to Calera Capital for $250 million later that year. While Rock 'n' Roll races are only one of the company's products, the series has grown into 27 cities across the U.S. and abroad, with an estimated 420,000 participants this year alone.

Liebesman, a lawyer and college professor, is claiming ignorance:

Plaintiff, and all those similarly situated, were ignorant of the fact that Defendant's races had no charitable purpose and that instead, all volunteers and charitable organizations were providing Defendant with free labor for which it should have to pay, increased participation, and hence increased revenue. More simply, Plaintiff and those similarly situated did not, and had no way of knowing, that their role was to increase Defendant's profit margins in a way not allowed under federal and state law.


Anyway, because of this "veneer of charitable or not-for-profit purpose," Liebesman is seeking unpaid minimum wages for her and everyone else that's volunteered at races since 2012. The suit openly admits that its lawyers have no idea how many people this is—one more benefit of not paying for employees.


CGI has not publicly commented on the suit.

Update: Competitor Group, Inc., released the following statement:

A lawsuit was recently filed against Competitor Group. We believe the allegations are completely baseless and we are confident that once the facts are analyzed it will be resolved quickly. It will not impact this weekend's event in St. Louis, which will continue just as planned. While we cannot comment any further on the pending litigation, we are proud of the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon's four year history in St. Louis and we will continue to build upon our strong relationships with our community partners.


[Photo: Flickr]

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