Competitor Group/RnR Sued for "Exploiting Volunteers"

Interesting read, but I'm failing to see the logic of the plaintiff here...

Pasted from the article:

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.


  • Carrieendar
    Carrieendar Posts: 493 Member
    I always kinda thought the "for profit" races would eventually owe a ton of money due to their volunteer practices. I doubt my husband could get away with bringing on 1000+ unpaid interns and then have them essentially provide 75% of the company services. HA! Hello IRS and Labor Department!
  • BrianSharpe
    BrianSharpe Posts: 9,248 Member
    Get butthurt.........sue somebody. I'm not a huge fan of some of CGI's practices (and I'm sure Carson will have an opinion to share too) but it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out how big a thing the Rock 'n Roll series is or that CGI is a for-profit company.
  • lporter229
    lporter229 Posts: 4,907 Member
    I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea if there is an actual case here or not, but no doubt this article will be popping up on countless running and fitness related sites (case in point^). If nothing else, it will make it a lot more difficult for the CGI group to get unpaid volunteers for future events, which could potentially put them out of business. Seeing as they are notorious for routinely cancelling races if their profit margin isn't large enough, without regard for the fact that the registered participants have put in countless hours of training for the event, I for one would be perfectly happy to see this happen.
  • TheBrolympus
    TheBrolympus Posts: 586 Member
    It does bring up an interesting point. People volunteer for races because that is how races have always been run but with the RnR being a for profit company, will this start to change? This could set a bad precedent for other large charity races.
  • wombat94
    wombat94 Posts: 352 Member
    It is an interesting issue. I am totally against for-profit companies depending on volunteers in order to stage races.

    I am co-director of a VERY small annual 5K staged by my church. We are planning our 3rd annual race - hoping to step up from 100 - 120 runners to something in the 250 - 400 range if we can get the publicity right. 100% of the proceeds (after covering the fairly minimal costs to the church for staging the race) go to support one of the most important ministries we feel we do both to our congregational community and the local community.

    We literally could not stage this race without 20 - 40 volunteers to help with race registration, shirt distribution, directing people where to park, course marshals, water stations, etc.

    I know that a lot of local charity 5Ks depend on the running community for volunteers on race day - and hundreds of runners from our local community DO volunteer at those races each year as a way to either give back to the charities themselves or to the running community.

    I think that Competitor and Disney (to name the biggest two I can think of) depend on that spirit of the running community to make more profit. If required to pay for race day staff, Competitor's existence MIGHT be threatened but Disney's certainly wouldn't be. I could see Disney either a) charging even MORE for their races or b) not offering the races at all. Either option would be okay with me, but selfishly I can say that because I've run one Disney race (2013 WDW Half Marathon) and have no real desire to do another - though I do occasionally think it would be an amazing challenge to run the Dopey sometime - until I look at how much it costs.

    I'd rather run local races that cost a lot less and/or actually have a significant portion of my race fee going to charity.

    I don't know if the case has a real legal standing, but it does seem to me to be a good way to make sure runners KNOW that these big for-profit races are really about the money that the company makes and not money raised for charities... people should know the real story before they agree to donate their time.

    Ideally, I'd love to see some middle ground arrived at where you have to pay volunteers unless you are a registered charitable organization staging a race with publicly disclosed amounts going directly to the charity.
  • Legs_McGee
    Legs_McGee Posts: 845 Member
    I always thought the very definition of volunteering was to donate your time FOR FREE. And as far as Competitor Group being a for-profit company .... I was aware of that. A lot of people are aware of that. I read complaints about that all the time (I don't personally have a problem with it). Having your head up your *kitten* shouldn't be a viable basis for a lawsuit.
  • lorierin22
    lorierin22 Posts: 432 Member
    I agree if you choose to volunteer for anything, you are aware you are not going to earn any compensation and should not be entitled to it.

    However, there may still be some legal issues with the company itself. If it was enticing peope to volunteer by misrepresenting the amount given to it's sponsor charities, that could be a problem. I don't have any idea about Competitor, but to use Disney as the example...they do give a percentage (albeit an extremely small one) to charities. If they entice people to volunteer by saying they can give more money to charity if they don't have to pay people, and that amount is misrepresented, I can see how the company itself may be held liable for that. But I, in no way, think the volunteers should be paid based on this...perhaps just the amount they would have paid workers would go to the charity instead of being strictly profit for the company...?
  • Carrieendar
    Carrieendar Posts: 493 Member
    edited October 2014
    Competitor group uses their profit status to make contracts with local governments and councils, shielding themselves from anti-road race laws that apply to everyone else (who cannot make those contracts because they are nonprofits ) and then competitor group switches gear and works hard to get 75% of their work done by unpaid people. The more I learn about the slime, the more upset I am that I ran their race here in Raleigh.
  • Carrieendar
    Carrieendar Posts: 493 Member
    edited October 2014
    And to top it off, councils react to complaints from their constituents about road races. 97%+ of those comaplints here in raleigh centered around RNR and color run. What did they do? wrote laws to limit races and road closures and RNR got to be exempt because of their long term contract. So...they caused the complaints, got to be shielded from the consequences, AND got to have all the competitor, smaller races moved far away from their own race, in both location and dates.

    So, yeah, if they have to pay, I will cheer.
  • JoannaEngel84
    JoannaEngel84 Posts: 49 Member
    My issue with CGI is that they charge nearly double everyone else for their races. That being said, they also tend to have more perks, bigger medals, bigger expos, larger fields, etc. I don't see why someone is so angry for donating less than half of her day to help out some runners. She needs to get over herself and do her research better if she only wants to volunteer for proper charities.
  • CarsonRuns
    CarsonRuns Posts: 3,039 Member
    I doubt the volunteers will ever be compensated, but anything that paints CGI in a bad light is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. I'd like to see them disappear forever. Before CGI, you could run a well supported marathon for $55. Not any more.
  • DavidMartinez2
    DavidMartinez2 Posts: 840 Member
    My concern is that without volunteers marathons will become impossible to stage financially.
  • SillyC2
    SillyC2 Posts: 275 Member
    Agree with DavidMartinez2 here.

    So, here's where I'm at with this. I think a lot of us don't want to volunteer for a Competitor or Disney race, due to the for-profit situation.

    But what about a smaller, local company that is for-profit? We have a number of excellent small companies here in New England. The race directors very much get paid, and the races are their day job. The races in part are excellent because the RDs aren't trying to balance the race management with other professional demands. But they are also our running partners and our friends. So volunteering for their for-profit company? How is that different than volunteering for Competitor. It's not really, is it?

    And when does "charity" matter? If a group donates 10% of the proceeds to charity, but then keeps a profit, is that okay? 50%? 100% isn't appropriate - they need to keep some of the money if for no other reason because they need some in the bank to purchase permits for the NEXT race.

    So where's the line here? I don't know.