Angie’s List Haunted By Huge Fraud Lawsuit As It Criticizes Indiana Religious Freedom Act
Angie’s List, an Indianapolis-based consumer reviews website, has been among the most strident critics of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows individuals and business owners to challenge laws they believe impose heavy burdens on their religious freedom.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, signed the new legislation Thursday, hailing it as a triumph for “religious liberty,” CNN Money reports.
By Saturday, Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle said the company may cancel an expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters in light of the new law.
“Angie’s List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents,” Oesterle said, according to The Indianapolis Star.
“We are putting the ‘Ford Building Project’ on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future,” the CEO of the quaintly-named, $315 million company also said.
The now-endangered “Ford Building Project” involves the conversion of a century-old Ford assembly plant into office space. To sweeten the deal, Indianapolis city officials have been prepared to give Angie’s List, a publicly-traded company, $18.5 million in tax-related incentives.
The building conversion had been scheduled to begin in the next few days.
Meanwhile, Angie’s List cannot stop getting sued by consumers who allege shoddy business practices.
A class action lawsuit filed on March 11 marks the third in four years for the company, which charges consumers to use it and which holds itself out as a trustworthy arbiter of consumer opinion.
According to the lawsuit, however, Angie’s List is little more than a sophisticated racketeering operation that favors businesses that pay for advertising by making those businesses more visible and by quashing negative reviews of businesses which pony up for ads.
“Angie’s List does not help members find the ‘best’ service provider, but rather the one who paid the most money to Angie’s List,” the complaint claims, according to the Star.
The primary plaintiff in the class action lawsuit is Janell Moore, a resident of Pennsylvania and an Angie’s List member since 2012. Moore claims that she relied on Angie’s List to select a contractor to remodel her home. That contractor failed to finish the work and did not refund Moore’s $4,000 deposit, the complaint alleges.
When Moore tried to write a scathing review of the contractor on Angie’s List, she claims, an Angie’s List employee informed her that other subscribers had also written negative reviews. However, those reviews were scrubbed from the consumer-reviews website.
While Angie’s List holds itself out as a consumer-driven company, in fact the company depends overwhelmingly on advertising for its $315 million in revenue. In 2014, for example, Angie’s List raked in $241.9 million from service providers and just $73.1 million from paid subscribers.
The lawsuit filed in March seeks unspecified damages for fraud and unjust enrichment, among other causes of action, notes CBS Philadelphia.
John Banzhaf, a renowned public interest law professor at George Washington University, notes that a federal religious liberty law similar to the new Indiana law has been on the books since 1993 when President Bill Clinton signed it, and when the U.S. Senate passed it 97-3.
Over 30 states already have similar laws.“If Indiana is only the latest of more than 30 states which have now adopted this same protection, why is…one state and its governor being singled out for condemnation, boycotts, and other measures?” Banzhaf asked in a press release obtained by The Daily Caller.
“No business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or anyone else” in the many years since these laws have been in effect, Stanford law professor and former appellate court judge Michael McConnell told The Weekly Standard.
“Rather many of the cases have involved other and diverse issues, including funeral rituals, Amish buggies, etc.,” explained Banzhaf.
“None of these laws automatically establish a right to discriminate against any group.”
In 2012, Angie’s List agreed to settle a lawsuit involving fees associated with automatic membership renewals. The company set aside $4 million to settle the lawsuit, reports Indianapolis Business Journal.