DeafNation / DeafUnited / Language People

May 4, 2017

 

Hello, welcome to the Daily Moth. I’ll talk about one big news topic: DeafUnited. 

 

There is a currently a lot of controversy and talk on social media in our Deaf/ASL community about DeafUnited, a new touring expo that is owned by LP (Language People), an interpreting/translation company. 

 

LP is currently being sued by the Barish brothers of DeafNation. LP entered into an agreement to buy DeafNation assets in 2015, but that new business relationship has since deteriorated, with the Barish brothers accusing LP of fraud and deceptive practices. That lawsuit is still pending and I’ll explain about it in this video.

 

DeafUnited recently held expos in California and Texas. Before the first expo two weeks ago, they had promoted a lineup of multiple talented Deaf people to perform at the expos, including Deafies in Drag / PAH! Studios and deaf musician WAWA.

 

After the California expo, Deafies in Drag / PAH! Studios announced they were no longer working with DeafUnited. Shortly afterwards, WAWA made a similar announcement.

 

There is now an explosion in vlogs and discussion about DeafUnited, LP, and DeafNation. 

 

I’ve been following the case between DeafNation and LP for several months now, I’ve been investigating and interviewing several people, as well as going through the lawsuit documents and contacting the Barish brothers’ lawyer. I figure with the controversy — now is the right time to do this news. We’ll go back to the beginning and go from there. 

 

To start, DeafNation, Inc. has for a long time been owned by the Barish brothers — Joel and Jed. They are well-known in our community for hosting DeafNation expos in the U.S. since 2003 and their several World Deaf Expos in Las Vegas, with the latest one in 2016. They are currently not doing any expos and are in a pending lawsuit in Travis County District Court in Austin, TX against Language People. 

 

The lawsuit by the Barish brothers was filed against LP in January 2016. It is ongoing and this process is likely to continue for several months, if not over a year. 

 

Now, let’s go to LP — Language People. They are a company that provides in-person interpreting and translating services, video remote interpreting services, and other services. It is hearing-owned and operated company — their CEO is Lisa Wrench and she usually communicates with the Deaf community through another LP employee, Lamar Stewart, who is fluent in ASL. Lamar is the current CEO of DeafUnited. 

 

I’ll provide a timeline of what happened between LP and DeafNation. 

 

In 2014, while DeafNation was hosting expos across the U.S., LP was a vendor for them — meaning they had booths at DN expos. They had a business relationship. LP’s CEO Lisa Wrench said they met with Joel at the end of 2014 to discuss LP buying out DeafNation. 

 

The Barishes’ lawyer, Lamont Jefferson, said LP represented themselves as a large, financially successful company and that they would provide enormous services to DeafNation. LP said they had access to capital markets and a large line of credit with Chase Bank. They offered a one-time $60,000 payment for event sponsorship rights for upcoming expos. 

 

In January 2015, LP and DeafNation agreed to a deal and both parties signed a “MOU” - Memorandum of Understanding” — to outline what the deal was. Here is a summary of the MOU, signed by Lisa Wrench and both Barish brothers.

 

— LP would “form” a new holding company called “DeafNation Enterprises” — DNE — and place Deafnation, Inc. (DNI — the company since 2003) under it. 

 

— For a “purchase price” of $300,000 spread out over two years,, LP/DNE would buy and own DeafNation’s assets — (all of its personal property (their RV, office, technology equipment), and their intellectual property (the DeafNation trademark, domain name -www.deafnation.com).

 

 — Joel and Jed would be top officers of DNE and receive a $100,000 salary, each and get LP executive benefits. They’d each own 10% of the common stock of DNE and 1% of its shares. They would have this job for 5 years from the contract. 

 

— LP/DNE would have all rights to run expos, events, and promotions using the DeafNation brand. Joel and Jed would continue to run the shows, but all the profits would go to LP. 

 

— The MOU said both parties would keep the details of the contract confidential. (But because of the lawsuit, the documents are now public). 

 

— The MOU also states the Barish brothers can’t work with any company that competes with LP and couldn’t produce or promote a Deaf-themed production or event. 

 

Four months later, on April 2015, LP and the Barish brothers signed an APA — Asset Purchase Agreement. This the “bill of sale” of what LP bought from the Barishes and which assets they get from DeafNation. Here is a summary of what’s in the APA.

 

— A payment of $300,000 for the assets, paid monthly over two years, following a promissory note. (The Barishes’ lawyer said there was no promissory note produced). 

 

— It has an agreement that LP would take over the payments for the RV — and if they made late payments for two straight months, LP would have to pay the full balance of the RV.

 

— The list of assets is extensive, it includes multiple cameras, computer equipment, drones, and studio furniture. 

 

— The money in DeafNation’s corporate bank account, which was a large sum, was excluded from the APA — that money would belong to the Barishes, but profits of the 2015 expos going forward would go to LP. 

 

— It includes the DeafNation Trademark. At the time of the purchase, the trademark was considered “dead” and cancelled on January 17, 2014. It was first filed in 2006 and registered since 2007. The trademark issue has caused a separate legal issue between LP and DeafNation. During the time of the MOU and APA, LP had seen that the trademark was “dead” and wanted to claim the trademark as a part of the pending agreement. With the agreement of Deafnation (since they were going to be a merged company), LP went ahead and got the trademark. 

 

The trademark issue is a big one — DeafNation filed an injunction to stop LP from using the “DeafNation” trademark, based on the lawsuit and the Barishes leaving LP based on their deception, but that injunction was denied because of the pending lawsuit, the trademark issue will be determined after the lawsuit. This will, again, take several months if not a year.) The Barishes has also filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to try and get them to cancel LP’s registration of the DeafNation trademark, but that was denied pending the lawsuit. 

 

The Barishes’ lawyer, Lamont, said the fact that LP uses “DeafUnited” as their brand for their expos instead of “DeafNation” shows that they are not fully convinced they have the right to use the DeafNation name. So the TM is a big issue. 

 

LP said the Barish brothers have no right to use the DeafNation trademark and do any business under it.

 

Again, the trademark issue is now “on hold” as the lawsuit is pending. Neither LP or the Barish brothers are using the DeafNation trademark, but the Barishes have operation of the DeafNation website and its Facebook page. 

 

———

 

Now, let’s go back to the APA that was signed on April 2015. That was the “real start” of the new partnership and that’s when DeafNation/Barish brothers effectively agreed to transfer their assets to LP. That was supposed to be the start of the Barishes’ salaries and the monthly payments of the purchase price. 

 

Although on the outside during 2015 it seemed like LP and the Barishes were getting along well, there were internal conflicts between the Barishes and LP.

 

The Barishes’ lawyer said LP simply did not perform their part of the deal — they did not pay the Barishes their salaries, did not pay the agreed price for the company, and did not support the expo like they promised they would.

 

Jed was the first to leave the newly formed partnership — he resigned four months after the APA (sometime in August 2015). His lawyer said he never got a dime in salary.

 

On October 2015, Joel Barish/DeafNation worked with LP to promote their new “Certified Deaf Friendly” program. It provides businesses with the certification if they install VRI kiosks using LP interpreters in their business. They first installed this at a pizza restaurant in Newport Beach, California. 

 

There was one Deaf-owned business who had a strong objection against this certification — this was deaffriendly.com, owned by Melissa echo Greenlee. They had already offered a similar service for several years prior — where they would encourage deaf people to “review” and rate a business in their community based on how deaf-friendly or deaf-challenged they were.

 

They wrote an open letter and made vlogs telling LP to cease their certification program and apologize to the Deaf community, saying they were a hearing-owned company that appropriated Deaf culture for financial gain. 

 

LP did not back down, they said they were doing a good thing, making the world a better place, and that one shouldn’t have to be a Deaf person/CODA/whatever to do the “right thing.” They said deaffriendly were rude and reckless. 

 

So they continued with the certifications, with a recent article on LA Times saying the city of Newport Beach was named a “Deaf-Friendly city” because they used the interpreting kiosks and tablets at the restaurant, in the City Hall, libraries, hospitals and other city facilities. 

 

In an interview with Melissa echo, she said LP tried to “trademark” the words, “Deaf Friendly” several months earlier, in May 2015. 

 

Melissa said several years before, deaffriendly was named, “deafreview” — and she tried to get that trademarked, but knew it would be denied because the USPTO does not give trademarks that are descriptive / if the words are used on every day language. 

 

She went ahead and filed for the trademark at that time because its a due process for businesses to establish a timeline and intention. She later changed her business to “deaffriendly” and did not try to get that trademark, knowing it’d be denied for the same reasons. 

 

She then found out LP tried to trademark “Deaf Friendly” — so they asked their legal trademark attorney to send them a request to drop their registration because their business were running under that time and they had a domain name with that name. But LP ignored that request and did not respond. So Melissa echo attempted to file for the “deaffriendly” trademark in August 2015 even though she knew it might be denied. 

 

Melissa echo said LP’s application was denied and their application “died” in January 2016, more likely because they stopped pursuing the trademark. Deaffriendly’s trademark application is still there, but they doubt they will get it, although there are exceptions. 

 

Melissa echo said the experience made her feel awful and concerned. She said they did not send them a courtesy email and did not respond to their communication. She still believes that LP has no right to make decisions for Deaf people on which businesses are deaf-friendly. 

 

So there was no legal claim on the trademark, but one can see that this is the second deaf-owned business that LP has tried to claim a trademark for.   

 

At the end of 2015 (Oct-Nov), Joel Barish posted a video announcement that they were “acquired” by LP. That video has been taken down, but Don Cullen, a Deaf blogger, posted a transcript of what Joel said — Joel said, “We are proud to announce that DeafNation was recently acquired by Language People.” 

 

There was some people in the Deaf community who questioned the announcement at that time, specifically expressing confusion and some disappointment that such a large and well-known Deaf-owned company was being sold and placed under a hearing-owned company.

 

Melissa echo said at that time she felt shocked and felt like someone was forcing Joel to say, “DeafNation has been acquired by LP Connect.” 

 

It was big news at that time, but all seemed normal between LP and DeafNation — that it was a business acquisition. They said the expos would continue and promoted their World Expo in Las Vegas during Summer 2016.

 

There were more internal conflicts between Joel Barish and LP. Joel ended up resigning from the company December 2015. Joel’s lawyer said Joel was only paid a salary from September 2015 until his salary was suspended December 2015.

 

The Barish brothers then filed a lawsuit against LP in January 2016. 

 

Joel’s lawyer said he gave the Barish brothers advice to file the lawsuit — because they were victims of fraud and they had grounds to void the agreements. He said there was never a promissory note issued that would outline the payments of the $300,000 purchase and that LP only made a single $12,500 payment in September. The lawsuit seeks relief from the contract and punitive measures against LP for misleading and deceiving the Barish brothers. 

 

At the beginning of 2016, DeafNation took down all LP branding from their Facebook account and website. Joel continued to promote and run DeafNation expos in 2016 without LP’s involvement, including promoting the World Expo. 

 

In court papers, LP said Joel violated the APA because he was involved in a business that competed with LP after resigning. LP said Joel had no legal right to use the DeafNation trademark. LP said they expended significant money and time into marketing efforts to support the 2016 World Expo. 

 

LP also said they allowed the World Expo to go on without raising any serious objection because they did not want to harm the Deaf community who had already made travel arrangements to go to Las Vegas as well as the various businesses and vendors who were attending. 

 

But Joel’s lawyer said after the Las Vegas expo, LP sent letters to various vendors and threatened legal action against them because of the claim that they owned the DeafNation trademark. He provided a copy of a letter, which had an warning by LP’s lawyers saying they owned the trademark and said they might consider legal action if they continued to “be associated” with the DeafNation mark. 

 

I did ask the Barishes’ lawyer about them hosting the 2016 expo in Las Vegas while the lawsuit was pending — on whether that was “okay” — and the lawyer said it was openly advertised, marketed, and hosted by the Barishes, they invested their time and money into the event — and that LP was content to watch it, only to later threaten legal action against exhibitors and wants to try to take over the whole of DeafNation without having paid a dime for it.

 

Now, at the beginning of this year, LP filed a counterclaim against the Barish brothers/DeafNation — and added Joel and Jed’s wives in the claim, saying they helped their husbands with various business  actions. In the counterclaim, they denied all of the accusations of fraud and wants a monetary relief of over $200,000 but under one million. LP accused DeafNation and the Barish brothers and their wives of fraud, theft, and embezzlement. So both sides are leveling accusations against one other. 

 

The Barishes' lawyer said LP had no justification for suing the wives of the Barishes and felt it was an attempt to pressure them to drop their lawsuit, that it is a cheap shot. 

 

Lamont said he believes the deaf community wants the Barish brothers to be more “vocal” during the dispute, but he has advised them to remain quiet and hopes the Deaf community will be patient during the legal process. He believes in the end the DeafNation brand will be returned to the Barish brothers.

 

So, that’s what happened from 2014 up to now, obviously a big legal battle, the lawsuit is going on in a district court here in Austin. I’ll provide updates on the lawsuit now that we are all caught up. 

 

Now, although LP claims they own the DeafNation trademark, they have not been using it, probably because of the pending lawsuit. They’ve pushed their new DeafUnited expo brand and have marketed their new upcoming schedule.

 

They’ve already done expos in California and last weekend in Texas. You can see pictures and videos of the expos on their social media accounts, and it might appear that they were smooth, successful expos — albeit an appearance of smaller crowd sizes. 

 

But there are serious complaints about DeafUnited from several different #DeafTalent performers — Deafies in Drag, others associated with PAH! Studios (Eduardo Sesma and Monica Foletta), WAWA, and a person who wished to remain anonymous. I will summarize their complaints, which were very similar. 

 

— PAH Studios and Deafies in Drag said they did not pay the performers what they previously agreed on. They were treated very unprofessionally by LP employees, namely Lisa Wrench and Lamar Stewart. They said Lisa and Lamar gave a bad attitude to people who attended the expo. 

 

— WAWA said he was asked to perform at expos, cleared his schedule, and thought there would be a contract, but it never materialized and he kept on being ignored by LP. WAWA said when he decided to back out, he was treated unprofessionally and was saddened because he lost opportunities to perform at other venues. 

 

— An anonymous person who worked with a DeafUnited expo said LP was very mean to deaf employees and verbally abused them, used their voice around them, and owes the person money for the person’ services. 

 

I recently tried to reach out to LP for comments, but have not gotten responses. They are planning future expos in Phoenix, Denver, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, DC area, Atlanta, Portland, Sacramento, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Orlando. 

 

There are several people in the Deaf community who said they would boycott DeafUnited expos. But there are others who said they had a good experience with DeafUnited and was supportive of the expo. 

 

So that’s what has been going on. There are many other social media posts about this, they will give you some additional insight. I’ll provide updates on this as I get them.

 

———

 

— LP Announces Pizza Bar Kiosks and CDF Program: http://www.lpconnectcard.com/vision-for-a-deaf-friendly-world/

 

— Don Cullen’s blog: https://www.doncullen.net/blog/deafnation-acquired-by-language-people/

 

— LA Times Announces “Deaf-Friendly Town:” http://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/tn-dpt-me-0310-deaf-friendly-20170310-story.html

 

— Deaffriendly’s complaints against LP’s use of “Certified Deaf Friendly”: http://deaffriendly.com/deaffriendly/position-statements/

 

— Court Documents from Travis County District Clerk (Publicly available, but it requires an application and a fee to view them). 

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