Sotheby’s triumphed in 2021 with a record that included consolidated sales of DKK 7.3 billion, but the large auction house is also currently battling a class action lawsuit against the company in March 2021, alleging that Sotheby’s misclassified employees as independent contractors. The lawsuit was filed by New Jersey-based accountant Francis Fenwick, who worked in Sotheby’s corporate controllers department between 2017 and 2020. The parameters for Fenwick’s hiring are a bit blurred. Initially, it appears from court documents that Fenwick was on contract with Sotheby’s as an independent contractor, but that he continued to remain in the auction house after the contract expired; the court could also potentially find that Fenwick and other workers were denied the full-time benefits employment with Sotheby’s.
The lawsuit alleges that Sotheby’s denied full-time employees their benefits by misidentifying them as freelancers; in addition, Fenwick’s claims that Sotheby’s did not pay him on time and that the auction house infringed Freelance Isn’t Free Act. The legal team of Sotheby’s submitted a proposal to dismiss the case in November 2021, claim that it was “so devoid of factual allegations … it was difficult (if not impossible) to figure out.”
A spokesman for Sotheby’s declined to comment to the Observer on ongoing lawsuits, but this is not the first time a major auction house has faced the threat of a class action lawsuit. A high-profile lawsuit filed against Sotheby’s in 2020 by the New York State Attorney General claimed the auction house was guilty of helping “Wealthy customers evade taxes to increase their own sales” via paperwork. According to the lawsuit, Sotheby’s went out of the way to help a client avoid tax by allowing him benefits that are legally limited to be for dealers, not collectors. (Sotheby’s attempt to have the case dismissed was recently rejected).
During the pandemic, newlyweds Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi ran the auction house to reduce costs, increase their digital and alternative reality resources, and eventually reach the top with incredible profits. As such, the company is more than equipped to compensate workers fairly.
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