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Craft-beer franchiser sues over online reviews by supposed franchisees

The company behind Craft Beer Cellar outlets is making a federal case out of negative reviews on Glassdoor.com, a site that lets people review the companies they work for.

In a suit filed last week in US District Court in Boston, Craft Beer Stellar, LLC of Belmont wants a judge to order the site to take down nine disparaging reviews, pay more than $75,000 in damages and to order the site to reveal the identities of their authors so that they can be legally hit with damages as well.

Beyond saying nasty things about one of Craft Beer Stellar's founders, the suit alleges the postings reveal proprietary company and franchise information that could only have come from the company's project-management system, which it uses to communicate with its franchisees. As one example, it cites a posting that claims that "the sales projections are off by 50% or more, and the costs are off by that much too" as both defamatory and proof the anonymous author had access to the closed project-management system.

The reviews, Craft Beer Stellar alleges, have caused "irreparable harm to its business and reputation in the craft beer industry."

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Comments

Twice

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Voting closed 8

Yes, that's the name of the LLC that owns the Craft Beer Cellar trademarks and sells franchise rights.

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Voting closed 9

Craft Beer Stellar, LLC. is the name of the company, thus the LLC is the entity making the complaint.
Its retail franchises are called CBC.

Per the complaint:

While Craft Beer Stellar, LLC, is the legal name of the Plaintiff, part of its branding includes, inter alia, identification of stores and franchises as “Craft Beer Cellar.” The content of the Glassdoor reviews demonstrate that the individuals posting the reviews are referring to the Plaintiff, Craft Beer Stellar, LLC.

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Voting closed 22

Back when it was one shop and the two owners were always there with good advice. Those days are long past and there are many other good craft beer stores nearby. Hearing about there venomous response to how their franchisees see them isn’t altogether surprising.

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Because this is how you get the Streisand Effect.

(The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.)

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Voting closed 11

The "Stormy effect".

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Voting closed 13

Ah the “Stellar” folks are at it again. Remember a couple years ago when they were being threatened with lawsuits from a few “black listed” brewers after a distastefully written internal memo leaked to the public? As recall they handled that poorly as well.

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Voting closed 9

One franchisee, who wished to remain anonymous, put it this way:

I entered into the craft beer cellar franchise because I wanted to help people find the beer that they love. The original CBC aura of a family looking for a collaborative approach to spreading our love of craft beer has dissipated into a bullied approach of controlling the stores without collaboration or input from them, which has caused increased expenses and hardships on several levels. … This actively costs us a higher level of expenses, directly removes revenue, and creates more problems with efficiency and workload.

Source: https://www.americaninno.com/boston/craft-beer-cellars-do-not-sell-list-...

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Voting closed 12

Defamation claims generally require the allegedly harmful statement to be false. But it sounds like the company is using the claims about sales projections and costs as evidence that the author had access to the project management system. That only makes sense if the statements they're objecting to are true.

A reviewer wouldn't need any data to make false statements; by that same logic, potentially defamatory false statements aren't evidence of access to the proprietary system.

(Standard disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.)

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Not Glassdoor. I don't think Glassdoor would have a nondisclosure contract with them, while the employee probably does.

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Any thoughts of helping whistle-blowers aside, I have no faith in any consumer rating web site.

A business associate of mine started getting negative posts and after assembling the employees one day found that none of the incidents were true. In time the negative posts started to describe things that did not exist as well as describing negative encounters with employees whose descriptions never matched with anyone working there.

Complaints were filed with Yelp to no avail. Mind you... this business was paying Yelp for additional advertising by special contract. Just getting someone at Yelp on the phone is a chore and even then the person you speak to has no authority to do anything. based on personal observation (on a 3-way call with the business owner as witness at the time) it appears that calls to Yelp are going to some non-descript call center. You can only complain via web form and then it goes to a non-descript review system - -apparently automated -- for resolution. Then after 2 weeks of no response and the negative comments festering as long, you get denied your day in court. Yelp like many other similar sites, even UHUB, are protected by case law that says, the site owners are not responsible for what other people post.

After a while the negative posts started to suggest the competition by name and address. Clearly they were emboldened that Yelp had done nothing and escalated matters. At this point it was a clear violation of Yelp's policies and so another complaint was filed, and another 2 weeks passed. Despite drawing a clear link to the intent and all clear evidence otherwise, all Yelp did was take down the single post for violation of TOS.

The business owner eventually contacted the sales agent and again, nothing happened. So all additional sales they were paying for was cancelled forthright. Why pay these people for advertising when they do that to their customers and have no human intervention when there is a clear effort by someone to harm your business?

In the end copies of all of the bad posts, and especially the ones that suggested the competitor were printed and presented to the local Chamber of Commerce and the City licensing board. The offending business claimed they were not responsible and had nothing to do with it but were pretty much told by the Chamber and License board to cut the SH___T. Curiously, and suddenly, all of the negative posts ended.

The same thing happens on Facebook "complaint" pages. While they offer some people the opportunity to bitch and moan and feel better about themselves, all it does is "Facebook-Shame" a person of business. Sadly, and all too often, the complaint has nothing to do with the business they are shaming. They just happened to be close to the issue and got blamed simply for their proximity to the problem.

As noted, UHUB and these ratings sites, which are glorified click-bait sites that sometimes prey on the unsuspecting, (Is your business being rated there? You don't have a choice by the way if it is.), are protected from legal recourse in most instances because they can neither validate or refute what is posted, so they remain without liability. you can be thankful that the site owner here has scruples and a brain to recognize when things get out of hand. It is rare but can happen.

So before you start believing what you read on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Facebook, take into consideration that the good as well as the bad may be 100% a pathological lie. I always look to see what the poster is saying about other places they visit. I recently found one that was 100% incapable of saying anything nice about anything. They just like to complain. What a sad life this person has. That review is completely ignored of course. Also check to see if they are a frequent poster. Lack of posts is another clue, especially when the ID is a MEME. Got something to hide there, sparky?

In the end Craft Beer will likely loose or get some kind of token settlement out of these bottom-feeding review sites. These sites, and new ones pop up regularly, cleverly developed a business solely based on people's need for emotional validation regardless of it being positive or negative. In the end it has nothing to do with the business itself being spoken of. It is about the poster getting validation through some form of participation. The vehicle used is immaterial. Gossip is a human trait.

If you really want to see how a business is, go experience it for yourself. The personal experience is far more powerful than electrons illuminating a web page.

PS - One of Yelps stringer sales people actually cold-called my friend's business a few weeks later to see if they would be interested in additional advertising. We all ducked. That poor sales person got an earful.

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Voting closed 12

Glassdoor is neither bottom feeding nor like yelp. Glassdoor is frankly well respected and many employers take the raising seriously. The insight provided by Glassdoor is very telling in what they don’t say as much as they do and at the least shows the type of people you’d be working with.

I have dodged several bullets thanks to Glassdoor and my current employer like many are very serious about their rating.

I agree on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Amazon and most, but Glassdoor is extremely useful. Hopefully This company will lose and the posters remain anonymous. Because that’s how you get honest reviews of how it is to work there and expected salaries.

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Voting closed 9

I stopped using Yelp altogether after I got a random 5-Star review about an employee interaction, however, they hadn’t worked for me for a few years and the review was obviously false for some other reasons. Within a few days after that review was posted, I started getting calls from Yelp ad sales saying how great my 5-star reviews were and I should pay to advertise on Yelp. Um no thank you.

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Voting closed 10

https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Craft-Beer-Cellar-Reviews-E1539904.htm

You'll only see the top review if you aren't logged in to glassdoor. In order to get any useful information out of glassdoor, I believe you'll need to create an account and review a place you've worked.

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Voting closed 9

The complaint attached to the original post essentially reprints them.

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I see lots of bad reviews and I don't have a glassdoor account. Reading through them it seems odd that they'd want to sue the site rather than reach out to workers and try to work out differences that caused these reviews to be written in the first place.

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Voting closed 11

Apologies for not getting into it in my original post, but ...

They claim they asked Glassdoor to take down the posts as incorrect and other horrible things and that Glassdoor refused, so therefore it's now just as responsible (while I'm no lawyer, I would be surprised if Glassdoor didn't cite Cubby v. CompuServe in its response).

As for fixing problems with the original posters, well, they argue the posters are being malicious and exposing their proprietary information to the world (which, in any case, they've now done themselves by excerpting the posts in their complaint and, for anybody who wants to read them in full, by attaching the entire set of posts as an exhibit for the complaint), so there's not really anything to work through, except by making the posters pay for what they did (and making Glassdoor delete the posts).

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if a UHub poster who frequently comments to drum up publicity for their media persona were to suddenly realize the depth of the damage they are incurring to their personal 'brand' with their vitriolic posts, they don't have grounds to sue UHub? Good thing.

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I'm just saying a Web site that allows public postings would not be defenseless in a court of law.

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I think this is very interesting in challenging both confidentiality clauses in contracts and non-disparagement terms in separation agreements. Anonymously posting company "secrets" and anonymously disparaging your former company on any internet site would probably both be violations, but how can a company chase down "John Doe" without the assistance of the website.

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Voting closed 6

Craft Beer Stellar has a contract with an employee or former employee

Glassdoor has a confidentiality agreement with same

Employee breaches that agreement on Glassdoor. CBS wants to know who that person is. But telling them would mean that Glassdoor breaches their agreement.

Lawyers get involved.

Stuff gets tacked onto the core of the dispute, which is that CBS wants to know who wrote those things on Glassdoor. Stuff like "YOU OWE US BECUASE BLAH BLAH DAMAGE!". That seems to be rather beyond the central dispute and perhaps speaks to why Glassdoor resisted their demands?

I hope Glassdoor files a countersuit over the add-ons. They have no agreement with CBS and no responsibility to censor what people write there.

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Glassdoor has a confidentiality agreement with same

Where do you see this?

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Read the fine print. They don't divulge who wrote what without a court order.

They certainly don't tell businesses who wrote negative reviews without one.

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Voting closed 9

The've become their parents generation. How sad.

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Are entitled hipsters?

Who knew?

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Entitled hipsters? These are small business owners. Of the few Craft Beer Cellars I've been to, the owners are in their 40s or 50s. That seems to be a generation off. The ones being sued are in their 60s~ish. None of the stores have a hipster vibe either. None are pretentious, and if the reviews are true, they're not swimming in excess cash either.

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Voting closed 12

Any update on this? Curious to know how it's turning out.

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