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Phone Sex Workers Only Make $4.20 An Hour, Lawsuit Claims

A sex worker advocate says lawsuits like this help people take labor issues involving sex work more seriously.

Kimberly Lawson

Kimberly Lawson

Photo by Kelly Knox via Stocksy

A couple of years ago, an anonymous phone sex operator took to reddit for an AMA session. She talked about the different types of people she deals with; how the hours sometimes interfere with quality time with her husband; and that it doesn't pay enough for her to be able to quit her day job.

In short, she described phone sex work as being no different from any other paid gig. And in the US, most employers are required to pay their employees at least minimum wage. A lawsuit filed earlier this week in federal court, however, alleges one company pays its operators as little as $4.20 an hour and forces them to work off the clock without compensation.

Anne Cannon is listed as the named plaintiff in the class-action suit against Tele Pay USA—which describes itself online as "the best opportunity for women and men to work from home." According to the complaint, the California-based company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by classifying its workers as independent contractors instead of employees, thus failing to pay them minimum wage, for overtime, and for hours worked but not recorded.

Read more: When Your Mom Works a Phone Sex Chat Line

In a typical week, Cannon states, she maintains a weekly call average of six minutes per call, getting paid 10 cents per talk minute, or $6 an hour, to have sexually explicit conversations with customers. When the average call time drops—she alleges that the company does not exclude illegitimate calls from the log, including prank callers or other technical errors—her hourly income drops to 7 cents per minute, or $4.20 an hour. (In Florida, where Cannon resides, the minimum wage is $8.10.)

Tele Pay charges callers $5 a minute, the suit states. "Defendant tells workers they can earn more but as soon as a worker reaches certain call thresholds needed to earn more, Tele Pay manipulates the compensation process to insure that their workers remain underpaid. While the Defendant can earn as much as $300.00 per hour based on a worker's labor, Plaintiff and others earn below the minimum wage."

To offer evidence on the "employer-employee relationship" between the plaintiff and Tele Pay, the suit shares details about "meetings" conducted between the two parties, during which someone named Don allegedly offers advice on what to say during calls and how to keep their average phone times up. "He reminds them repeatedly, cajoling them over and over with the telephone sex talk mantra – 'Remember, it's not HOW MANY calls you take, but HOW LONG you keep these guys on the phone!'"

Cannon also claims that she's required by the company to be available certain hours to field calls—sometimes working more than 40 hours a week—and that she's sent several emails a day encouraging her to log on to work. Additionally, the suit states, the company "intentionally makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Plaintiff to track her time and insure that she is being paid properly" and "micro manages" its employees.

"It's very hard for sex workers to be able to have these labor disputes and be taken seriously."

Brian Mahany, the attorney who filed the suit seeking three years' worth of allegedly unpaid wages, told Law.com the case is the first he's aware of alleging unpaid compensation on behalf of sex talk workers. "It's hard to go find people in this line of work," he said. "I'm sure there are more."

On a larger picture scale, though, the lawsuit sheds light on how women who do sex work are often exploited. "Women are a core part of both the national and global economy," the suit states. "Unfortunately, the abuses and financial exploitation they experience often remain invisible. This is especially true for workers in female-dominated sectors of the economy such as sex talk workers. They are hidden from the public eye."

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Briq House is the communications director of Sex Workers Outreach Project USA. She says this lawsuit is important because it's going to force people to take labor issues with sex work more seriously. "People are always discounting sex work," she tells Broadly. "People are always making it seem as if this is something that is not a regular job. This [case] is a perfect example of a sex worker putting in more labor than they're actually being paid for."

This kind of unfair treatment happens to sex workers all the time, House continues. "It's very hard for sex workers to be able to have these labor disputes and be taken seriously. For this to actually be a lawsuit and getting some steam, it's really great. This is legitimate work … what they're being paid right now is a crime."

As of press time, a request for comment to Tele Pay on these allegations was unanswered.