L’Officiel Freelancers Take Legal Action in France for Unpaid Wages

Freelancers who worked for L’Officiel magazine are still trying to get paid.

Dozens of writers, photographers and stylists who have done freelance work for the publication have been chasing down what they’re owed for more than a year, as WWD has previously reported, and now, they’re looking to the French courts to help them in their effort. Freelancers have found legal representation and launched a group action in France, where L’Officiel and its publisher Editions Jalou is based.

Through the legal aid group V pour Verdict, freelancers are being asked to submit their claims of nonpayment and join the group action in order to bring their case before the Judicial Tribunal of Paris.

It’s thought that the publisher owes some 500 people across the U.S., London, Paris, Italy and Switzerland, where a legal verdict over freelance payment was entered against the publication. Owed amounts are thought to total close to 2 million euros. The company is said to have reached out to many of those owed money, but only offering incomplete sums. People have been asked to choose between being paid 40 percent of what they are owed upfront or go on a payment plan to be paid the full amount over the course of 12 months. Yet, even for the few who have agreed to go one of these routes, many have still received no payment. L’Officiel said in September that it was working to pay all freelancers within six months.

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In a page for the group action, lawyers write that freelancers have been unable to get L’Officiel to simply pay what they are owed, despite having often spent “significant amounts” of money in order to complete their freelance work. And there may even be a copyright issue to be dealt with for the freelance photographers who have not been paid as they “face the silence of Editions Jalou regarding payment while their images (produced by freelance photographers) are used in several L’Officiel magazines.”

As well-known writer and critic and former L’Officiel freelancer Sasha Frere-Jones told WWD last year: “I’ve worked for a lot of people, including people who I don’t like or even respect, and they pay their people. This situation is not normal.”

A representative of L’Officiel could not be reached for comment.

When WWD spoke in May with Benjamin Eymère, part of the Jalou family and L’Officiel’s chief executive officer, he did not deny that many freelancers for his publications have gone unpaid for completed work.

To him, this is par for the course, as he explained: “In any business, there’s often a delay in payment for an invoice. It also depends on the reality of the execution of the job.” Eymère also cited the coronavirus pandemic as causing a delay in what he said was an ongoing process of “addressing each invoice.”

But nonpayment being another eight months on, and seeing how sources have noted freelancer payment started to become an issue in 2018, the pandemic cannot be blamed for all. And the publisher has cut costs, significantly reducing print frequency and its use of freelancers for work, as WWD previously reported. Several freelancers see Eymère and L’Officiel’s tactics as nothing more than a reinforcement that there is no intention to pay freelancers what they are owed. 

And yet, Eymère said last year that L’Officiel’s future was bright, with digital editorial strategies appealing to advertisers and the likes of Stefano Tonchi on board. L’Officiel is backed in the U.S. by Global Emerging Markets, or GEM, an investment group run and founded by Christopher Brown, and L’Officiel U.S. now operates out of the GEM offices in New York. Eymère said last year the firm had made a further investment in the company. But an inability to pay freelancers is never a good sign of a publication’s financial health.

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