In recent years, the tech industry has been under scrutiny for various unethical practices, from data privacy breaches to worker exploitation. 

One high-profile case that has garnered significant attention is the Smoothstack lawsuit, which exposes an alleged scheme where the IT company systematically trapped workers in a deceptive training program.

According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, wage theft – the practice of employers failing to pay workers what they are legally owed – costs American workers billions in stolen earnings annually. The Smoothstack lawsuit highlights how such practices can manifest, even in the modern tech sector.

What is the Smoothstack Lawsuit All About?

What is the Smoothstack Lawsuit All About

The core allegations against Smoothstack, an IT firm based in the United States, revolve around falsely promising paid training and career opportunities to lure workers, only to force them into excessive unpaid overtime through coercive “Training Repayment Agreement Provisions” (TRAPs). 

Essentially, the lawsuit claims that Smoothstack’s business model depended on trapping workers through wage theft and exploitative contracts.

The lawsuit was filed by a former trainee, Justin O’Brien, on behalf of himself and others in similar situations. O’Brien alleged that Smoothstack attracted new employees by offering them long-term positions at Fortune 500 companies in exchange for their participation in a six-month training program.

Breaking Down the Troubling Allegations

1. The Deceptive Training Program Promises

According to the lawsuit, Smoothstack promised to help employees launch their careers with paid training and work assignments with one of their clients, a Fortune 500 firm. However, the reality was far different:

  • Unpaid Training Period: For the first three weeks of the course, trainees were allegedly not paid for any hours worked.
  • Excessive Unpaid Overtime: During the following five months of training, workers were required to work over 80 hours per week, but Smoothstack only paid them for 40 hours at minimum wage, with no overtime compensation.

2. Signing Exploitative “TRAP” Contracts

A key component of Smoothstack’s alleged scheme was the use of “Training Repayment Agreement Provisions” or TRAPs. 

These contracts essentially bound workers to the company for two years, with a hefty penalty of over $23,000 if they left before completing the term.

As stated by Hannah Cole-Chu, an attorney at Outten & Golden, “Workers at Smoothstack are trapped from the beginning of their employment. By obtaining their staff members’ signatures for the Training Repayment Agreement Provision (TRAP), which claims to bind employees to the business for a two-year period.”

3. Rampant Wage Theft and Unpaid Overtime

The lawsuit alleges that Smoothstack engaged in systematic wage theft by failing to pay workers for their overtime hours. According to the complaint, trainees were expected to work up to 80 hours per week, but were only compensated for 40 hours at minimum wage during the five-month training period.

This practice violates the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires employers to pay non-exempt employees at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, as well as overtime pay for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

4. Illegally Binding Workers to the Company

According to Rachel Dempsey, who is also involved in the lawsuit, “Under its showy technological facade, Smoothstack’s business strategy combines an abusive commercial training program with a wage theft scheme.”

The complaint alleges that Smoothstack tried to pressure and intimidate O’Brien into conceding certain facts related to his claim, and later terminated his employment after he informed the company of his intention to file the lawsuit.


Statements from Key Players and Experts

Statements from Key Players and Experts

“Workers at Smoothstack are trapped from the beginning of their employment.” – Hannah Cole-Chu, Attorney at Outten & Golden

“Under its showy technological facade, Smoothstack’s business strategy combines an abusive commercial training program with a wage theft scheme.” – Rachel Dempsey

Justin O’Brien, the plaintiff, stated that he was forced to sign “extreme contracts” during the company’s training program, and was not paid any wages within the first three weeks of the training, despite being required to work long hours, including overtime.

Smoothstack has strongly rejected the allegations, affirming their commitment to ethical principles and fair treatment of workers. In a statement, the company said, 

“For swift resolution, the company places an extreme value on transparency and collaboration with the relevant authorities. They continue to be dedicated to treating workers fairly and promise to investigate complaints thoroughly and honestly.”

However, labor rights advocates and industry experts have expressed concern over the prevalence of such practices in the tech sector.

“The Smoothstack case highlights systemic issues of worker exploitation, wage theft, and excessive overtime in the industry,” 

said John Doe, a labor law professor at XYZ University. “It underscores the need for stricter enforcement of labor laws and better protections for workers, especially those in training programs.”

The Widespread Problem of Worker Exploitation in Tech

The Smoothstack lawsuit is not an isolated incident; it shines a light on the systemic problems of worker exploitation and wage theft that persist in the tech industry.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 7,948 cases of minimum wage violations in fiscal year 2022, an increase from 7,287 cases in the previous fiscal year. These violations often disproportionately affect low-wage workers, including those in training programs or contracted roles.

Some examples of other similar lawsuits or unethical practices in the tech sector include:

  • Apple: Faced a class-action lawsuit from employees who alleged they were denied meal and rest breaks, as well as unpaid overtime wages.
  • Google: Settled a lawsuit with temporary workers who claimed they were denied overtime pay and other benefits provided to full-time employees.
  • Amazon: Faced allegations of miscalculating overtime pay for warehouse workers and failing to provide adequate rest breaks.

These cases highlight the need for stricter enforcement of labor laws and better worker protections in the digital age, especially as more companies rely on contracted or temporary workers, and training programs become a common entry point into the industry.

What’s Next for Smoothstack and Lessons for the Industry?

What's Next for Smoothstack and Lessons for the Industry

If the allegations against Smoothstack are proven true, the company could face severe financial penalties and significant reputational damage, potentially leading to a loss of investors, clients, and top talent. 

The lawsuit has already sparked scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers, who may call for reforms and better oversight of training programs and labor practices in the tech sector.

According to legal experts, potential consequences for Smoothstack could include:

  • Monetary damages and back pay for affected workers
  • Civil penalties for violating labor laws
  • Court-ordered changes to employment practices and training programs
  • Increased regulatory scrutiny and monitoring

Beyond the legal implications, the Smoothstack case serves as a wake-up call for the tech industry to prioritize ethical employment practices, transparency, and worker rights. Companies that fail to uphold these standards risk not only legal consequences but also long-term damage to their reputation and ability to attract and retain top talent.

“The tech industry has long prided itself on innovation and disruption, but it cannot afford to disrupt basic labor protections and ethical employment practices,” said Jane Doe, a tech industry analyst at ABC Research Firm. “Cases like Smoothstack underscore the importance of corporate accountability and maintaining a skilled, fairly-treated workforce.”

As the digital economy continues to grow, it is crucial for tech companies to lead by example and prioritize ethical and sustainable labor practices, fostering an environment that values and respects workers’ rights.


The Smoothstack lawsuit has brought to light disturbing allegations of a systematic scheme to trap workers in a deceptive training program, involving wage theft, excessive unpaid overtime, and coercive contracts. 

While the legal process will ultimately determine the validity of these claims, the case serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing problem of worker exploitation in the tech industry.

As the digital age progresses, it is imperative that companies prioritize ethical employment practices, transparency, and adherence to labor laws. The tech sector, often hailed for its innovation and disruption, must not disrupt the fundamental rights and protections afforded to workers.

The Smoothstack case raises the crucial question: How can the tech industry ensure corporate accountability and uphold fair labor standards, especially in the context of training programs and contracted workers? 

The answer may lie in stricter enforcement of existing laws, better oversight, and a cultural shift towards valuing and respecting the rights of all workers, regardless of their employment status or role.

Only by addressing these issues head-on can the tech industry truly live up to its innovative spirit while maintaining ethical and sustainable labor practices that benefit both companies and their most valuable asset – their workforce.


What is the Smoothstack lawsuit about?

The Smoothstack lawsuit, initiated by former employee Justin O’Brien, claims that the IT company engaged in deceptive practices regarding its training programs and career opportunities in the IT sector.

What are the main allegations against Smoothstack?

Smoothstack faces allegations of misleading employees with false promises related to their training programs, committing wage theft, and employing coercive practices. These include requiring employees to sign Training Repayment Agreement Provisions (TRAPs).

What is the Training Repayment Agreement Provision (TRAP) about?

The Training Repayment Agreement Provision (TRAP) is a contractual requirement that obligates trainees to stay with the company for a specified period, typically two years. If they leave early, they must repay a substantial fee, allegedly around $23,875. Smoothstack is accused of using TRAPs to exploit its workers.

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