Seattle Surgeon Guilty of Breaking Law with Review Practices

A federal judge found Allure Esthetic wrongly prevented patients from posting negative reviews with illegal NDAs.

Seattle Surgeon Guilty of Breaking Law with Review Practices
A federal judge agreed with Attorney General Bob Ferguson, ruling that Seattle plastic surgery provider Allure Esthetic and its owner, Dr. Javad Sajan, illegally prevented patients from posting negative reviews about the business.

Some businesses find reviews so important and so threatening they are willing to do just about anything to avoid a bad one. While the case is still technically ongoing, a federal judge has granted summary judgement, declaring that "the clinic broke the law by requiring more than 10,000 patients to sign illegal non-disclosure agreements before receiving treatment. In many cases, patients learned they had to sign only after paying Allure a nonrefundable $100 consultation fee." 

Coercive and Illegal NDA

Under this “pre-service” non-disclosure agreement, Allure required patients to agree to “pay monetary damages to the practice for any losses” if they did not take down a negative review. Some patients were also required to waive health privacy rights, to “allow a response [to the review] from the practice with my personal health information” if they posted a negative review. 

Allure, a major provider of plastic and cosmetic surgery procedures in the Seattle area, is also accused of "intimidating and bribing patients to remove negative reviews, ordering its employees to post fake positive ones, and altering 'before and after' photos to misrepresent the actual results of procedures, among other allegations."

Yelp Consumer Alert

Yelp has acknowledged some of this behavior with one of their alerts, although the business is still showing a 4.5 rating.

Web designers, from 2018 to 2021, noted that they regularly posted fake reviews by creating fake email accounts and fictional online personas. Employees used stock photos and built a “persona” to create a more realistic profile to post reviews from. These reviews, mentioned in the AG's 2022 lawsuit, are still showing on Google.

Google Inaction

Google, unlike Yelp, has not only not removed the reviews specifically mentioned in the lawsuit, they have made no mention of any of the issues involved with the case and are showing the business as having 917 reviews and a 4.8 star rating.

Clearly the actions of Allure Esthetic are egregious and obviously a violation of the the 2016 federal Consumer Review Fairness Act. While some of the case is still to be adjudicated, because of the summary judgment the NDA issues are going directly to a penalty phase and will be determined at trial, scheduled for September.

Will the Penalty Be Meaningful?

Despite claims to the contrary, Google and to a lesser extent Yelp, have not been very successful at preventing this level of review abuse. The government deserves credit for bringing the case and getting a summary judgement.

Now, the issue will be whether the business pays a fine commensurate with the income that they have generated by violating the law. In recent similar review case in NY state involving a surgeon, the fines were a veritable slap on the wrists coming in at $100,000. Plastic surgery procedure costs vary widely but are typically several thousand dollars. Allure had 10,000 patients sign the NDA, which could represent tens of millions of dollars in income.

With this case being in federal court and summary judgment already granted, the penalties hopefully will reflect the massive amount of business gained due to these deceptive practices.