Company Tries To Scam Programmer Out Of Months Worth Of Work, So He Takes Them Up On Their Invitation To Sue Them.
by Trisha Leigh
Telling someone to sue them is a turn of phrase that gets thrown around in all kinds of situations, but most of the time, no one is actually going to take them up on it.
OP is a computer programmer but does some freelance work on the side. He took a job with specific specifications and they agreed on $2k for payment.
He expected the job to take a couple of weeks, but every time he went in to hand it over and show them how to use it, they asked for more changes/additions.
I was working 40 hours/week programming at my main job, but I did occasional small projects in the evenings and on weekends for other clients. At one point I was referred to a large company that runs major stadiums and event venues around the country (one of their stadiums is relatively close to where I live). I’ll just call them MARK-1 for this story.
THE SAGA BEGINS
This manager at MARK-1 said they wanted a simple administration database and user interface for employee timekeeping. Apparently the old system they had was not working for them.
I got details of what they wanted and drafted a set of specifications. Told them I could write the system to the specs for $2,000 flat rate.
After a while he was fed up and told them they would need to renegotiate the payment if they kept making changes. The manager there refused, and canceled the entire project.
I immediately went to work and churned out a database and UI for the system with full documentation in about 2 weeks. So I scheduled an in-person meeting to show them.
Now when I showed up at the meeting, someone representing the security department was there. And he asked about getting some additional features. Sure, I told him, I can do that.
So I went back, wrote up a change request and incorporated the additional features into the platform. I scheduled another meeting with MARK-1 for a couple of days later. When I got to that meeting I noticed the audience had grown: there were two extra people from the finance department.
“Can you add Feature X, Feature Y and Feature Z?” they asked.
“Sure, no problem.”
So I left, wrote up a CR and added the features. A few days later I met with them again. Imagine my surprise when the audience size had grown, and the new attendees asked for more features.
This went on for about 5 more rounds, and I was getting frustrated that the project I had spec’d out as a 2-week project was now taking months. And I wouldn’t be paid until I delivered (and they accepted) the final product. But I chugged along implementing all their change requests.
But one day the MARK-1 manager called me. Apparently she had been speaking with other departments that weren’t represented in her status meetings of ever-increasing mass. She gave me a list of dozens of new features they wanted, some of which would require a complete redesign of the core database and an overhaul of the UI.
I had had enough.
I told her “This is a complete overhaul of the original spec. I’ll have to redesign and rebuild this from the ground up.”
“Well that’s not my problem,” she responded.
“Well actually it is. I’m not going to design and build an entirely new system until you pay me for the current one, built to the specs we agreed on.”
After a short pause, she dropped a bomb on me: “Well we’re not going to renegotiate. You can consider this project canceled.”
OP told her it doesn’t work like that and he still needed to be paid for what he had done already.
She told him to sue him, so that’s what OP did.
“That’s not how this works. You still have to pay me for the work I’ve done.”
“No I don’t. You haven’t delivered anything. Sue me.”
He was willing to take $1800, even, but they refused and went in front of the judge.
I took MARK-1 manager’s advice and went to the courthouse the next day to file in small claims court to recover $2,000 from MARK-1.
On my court date a couple of months later, I went down to the courthouse and was greeted by an arbitrator. In my state, they have court-appointed arbitrators meet the litigants when they arrive, to see if the parties can sort out the case with an agreement to maximize the judge’s time.
The arbitrator asked me “Is there anything you would agree to, to resolve this immediately?”
I thought about it and said “If they’ll pay me 90%, $1,800, right now I’ll drop the suit.”
He then went into a side room where the MARK-1 manager and the corporate lawyer were hanging out. I heard her screaming that they would either “Pay it all or pay zero!”
The arbitrator came to me with the news, and I told him “I heard, and I’m happy to take it all.”
He laughed and said no, they want to go to trial.
The other party pontificated for 30 minutes, but OP just said they owed him for agreed-upon work, presented his 500 pages of code, and left it at that.
Fast forward a couple of hours (fast forward is a funny phrase, considering how slow the court moved, but hey), and we’re standing in front of the judge. I’m at my table alone, and the MARK-1 manager and lawyer are standing at the opposite table.
The judge asked MARK-1 manager to tell her side first. She went into a very long speech about the project and corporate America and apple pie and thermonuclear weapons and honestly I have no idea because I stopped listening about 28 minutes ago. She talked nonstop for at least 30 mins.
Then the judge asked me for my story. Now I wasn’t maliciously ignoring MARK-1 manager’s long-winded tale of political intrigue and patriotism. I was actually formulating a strategy.
I thought to myself the judge probably had people who liked to speechify in front of him all day every day. I also thought he might appreciate a short and sweet story that got straight to the point and didn’t waste his time.
So I said “Your honor, they agreed to pay me $2,000 to design and build a software system for them. I completed the work based on the agreed specs and then they decided to cancel the project after I was done.”
That was it.
Then the judge asked me “How do I know you did the work?”
I had printed out the specs, change requests, documentation, and source code the night before. I lifted a ream of paper (500 pages) from my table and offered it to the bailiff. “Here’s the code I wrote for them your honor.”
The bailiff came to take it from me and the judge waved him off: “No need, I can see it from here.”
The judge then asked MARK-1 manager “Is this true?”
She looked like she was in a daze. “Uhhhhhh yes…”
“Then I find for the plaintiff in the amount of $2,000.”
Even then, they tried not to pay him. OP had to send the sheriff out, but eventually he got his money.
About a month later, MARK-1 still hadn’t paid. So I called the county sheriff and explained. Sent him the court judgement documents, and he said “No problem, they’ll pay.”
The sheriff actually called me later that day. He was on a cell phone and I could hear him talking to the MARK-1 manager. He told her cut a check for $2,000 right now or he was going to “rip your computers out of the wall and auction them off until the judgement is satisfied.”
I don’t know if he had that authority, but the sheriff seemed to have a grudge against MARK-1, and he was reveling in the opportunity to dog them out.
Apparently MARK-1 believed he had the authority because—long story short—the sheriff had a $2,000 check in his hand about 15 minutes later and it was in my mailbox about a week later.
This is quite the story, isn’t it?
The top commenter thinks it’s pretty boss, too.
They really like the sheriff’s role in the story, too.
This person suspects this was not the first time they’d tried this trick.
And this commenter thinks OP should have gotten something more.
They also have some advice for OP as far as his contracts in the future.
I’m glad this guy got his money.
I’m sorry he had to work so hard for it, though.