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Yelp Lawsuit Widens: From Washington to Chicago to L.A., Plaintiffs Charge Extortion

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Nine companies have joined the proposed class action lawsuit against Yelp, the San Francisco-based Internet giant, attorneys in Miami and California announced this morning.

The new plaintiffs are located everywhere from Tujunga, California, to Washington, D.C. They include businesses ranging from a sofa outlet to a bakery to the heart of Yelp's business, several restaurants.

All allege that Yelp, a Web site that purports to offer public reviews of all kinds of concerns, engaged in extortion by attempting to sell them ads and offering to erase bad reviews in exchange. In some cases, negative reviews were even added -- and strong-arm techniques were employed, the plaintiffs say.

"Since filing the complaint we have been inundated with calls and e-mails from small businesses around the country," says Jared Beck, the Miami attorney representing the plaintiffs. 'Many of them asked us what they can do to actively stand up and join the fight against Yelp."

The original case was filed by a California veterinarian, Gregory Perrault, against Yelp. His attorneys believe the company bullies patrons using not only a paid advertising staff, but an "elite' group of free reviewers.

Among the new plaintiffs in the case are Astro Appliance Service of San Carlos, California, Le Petite Retreat of Los Angeles, Scion Restaurant of Washington, D.C., and Bleeding Heart Bakery of Chicago.

The company has hired attorneys, Michael Rhodes and Sarah Boot, to defend itself. Yelp acknowledges that in some cases, bad reviews have been removed from the Web site by an "algorithm." The company, they say, offers a great public service by bypassing conventional reviewers.

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