The most current suit states that Rahbar was contacted by Yelp in 2007 to pay $250 in
order to display a favorite review as a "sponsored review" and stop
other dentists from advertising on her page -- both practices that Yelp has been candid about in the past.
But Rahbar alleges that two "false and defamatory reviews" were subsequently
posted and Yelp once again contacted her and "demanded more money or the
negative and false reviews would become prominent and hurt her
business."The suit further alleges that the customer service representative would
only talk by phone, not by e-mail, and told the dentist that "by paying more each
month Yelp would push down or even remove the negative reviews."
Rahbar claims that her monthly revenue dropped from $120,000
to $52,000 after negative reviews on Yelp claimed "she
had committed dental malpractice, falsely claimed that she regularly
performed unnecessary procedures merely to obtain more money from a
patient and falsely claimed that her service had 'deteriorated and she
cared more about squeezing...the most out of your insurance than you as a
patient.'" Rahbar defaulted on
the loan that was financing her practice.
Rahbar agreed to start paying Yelp $550 a month: "Within days, the attacks
stopped ... the negative reviews were removed" and her business went back
to normal, the suit states. At the same time, Rahbar filed lawsuits against two
Yelpers who'd left the "defamatory" posts -- which, she says, triggered Yelp reps e-mailing her that she would no longer be permitted to advertise on the site: "It's Yelp's
belief that it is not in our best interest to promote a business that is
actively suing members of the Yelp community."
The suit is written with language that makes Yelp sound more like the neighborhood mafiosi than a website: "Yelp is not only providing 'protection' for small businesses attacked
on its website for a significant monthly fee, but it is protecting the
source and authorship of the false and defamatory attack posts and
comments by pulling its protection of the business when the truth is
Still, Rahbar seems to be doing okay without paying the site. As of Thursday, her Yelp page showed her batting four out of five stars.