Netflix is being sued by former professional binge-watchers

Don’t quit your day job.
Don’t quit your day job.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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Getting paid to watch Netflix sounds like a sweet gig, but don’t quit your day job just yet.

Netflix reportedly pays hundreds of people to screen its movies and TV shows, and choose the media used to promote them on the service. The army of binge-watchers are part of a clandestine operation, code-named ”Project Beetlejuice.” Now, two former so-called “juicers” are suing Netflix over their compensation.

According to the lawsuits, which are seeking class-action status in Los Angeles Superior Court, Netflix paid the screeners around $10 per movie or TV show to pick the best still images and videos to represent the titles in Netflix’s library. They were paid as independent contractors, but the lawsuit claims they should have been paid as employees and received overtime pay, health insurance, and retirement benefits.

Lawrence Moss and Cigdem Akbay, who filed the complaints, were allegedly ”closely supervised and controlled” by Netflix and its management, and therefore should have been treated as employees. They are seeking unspecified amounts in damages.

Independent contractors are supposed to be in business for themselves, and typically have some negotiating power over their work, according to Sarah Leberstein, a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project. “A true independent contractor would have some footing or stability to say this is how I’m going to do this job,” said Leberstein, adding that there have been a lot of high-profile cases around on-demand companies like Uber and Lyft over this issue.

Akbay’s complaint argues that Netflix set her pay, deadlines, and assignments. Binge-watching for Netflix eventually became her full-time job. She worked there from 2011 to 2014, when she was allegedly let go a few months after telling her supervisor Netflix was her primary source of income. She and Moss said they worked more than 40 hours a week for Netflix at times.

“Theoretically, [Akbay] could set her own hours,” her complaint said, “but Netflix imposed deadlines for assignments that in effect imposed a rigid work schedule.” It is unclear from the court documents whether Akbay could have reduced her workload by taking on fewer assignments. The lawyer representing both her and Moss did not respond to requests for comment.

Netflix declined to comment on the cases because they are ongoing. The company reportedly said in court papers that the workers had signed agreements to handle disputes privately in arbitration, according to the Hollywood Reporter.