Nearly three years ago, we reported on the kerfuffle over psychologists who were upset to find that the “mandatory assessment” fee they thought was, well, mandatory turned out to be entirely optional. The fee was being paid to the American Psychological Association (APA), the professional guild association for psychologists, to fund a legally separate organization, the APAPO, tasked with lobbying (mostly at the state level — not the federal level).
A class-action lawsuit against the APA was thrown out earlier last year on technical grounds (but with prejudice, suggesting a new lawsuit has a harder road to climb).
Despite that, a new lawsuit was recently filed in federal court in California “accusing the group of misleading its members into paying a fee used to fund its lobbying arm as part of their annual dues.”
Law360 has the story:
To fund the [APAPO lobbying] group, the APA started assessing the so-called special fees, which were included on its annual membership dues statement with the instruction that any members who provide any health-related services “must pay” the fees, Grossman claims. These special fees were significant, ramping up to about $140 in 2011 — or about half of the APA dues themselves — according to the complaint.
This was backed by information on the group’s website and in a public statement, reiterating that the special fee was mandatory and that the only reason the fee was assessed separately was for tax reasons, due to APAPO’s separate tax status as a lobbying group, the suit alleges.
However, after a number of APA members discovered in 2010 that the special fee was only mandatory for membership in APAPO and began to spread the information to other members, the group had a turnaround, admitting its prior fee statements “[did] not make clear” that the fee was only for APAPO membership and that its 2011 dues statements would “be modified to clarify this point,” according to Grossman.
According to the APA, it continues to lose membership too, suffering an 8 percent decline in 2011 and nearly a 2 percent decline in 2012. Other professional organizations, including the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychiatric Association, continue to see their membership ranks increase during the same period.
Given the APA’s confusing messaging and lack of apology about the issue, it’s not surprising to find that APA members have voted with their feet.1 According to financial statements on the APAPO website, the special assessment fees received in 2011 dropped 14.5 percent — significantly more than the drop in overall APA membership for that year.
While we don’t want to see the APAPO go away, we do want to see the APA apologize for misrepresenting the fee for nearly a decade to its own members — and repay it to any member who felt misled.2 An ethical and responsible organization shouldn’t need a lawsuit as a prod in order to do the right thing.
Read the full article: Psychologists Group Sued Over Misleading Membership Fees
- Every time we and others asked the APA about the confusing messaging, spokespeople gave a canned response about the assessment being “mandatory” to be a member in the APAPO — one of those typical legal/PR answers that doesn’t answer the question. [↩]
- The APA can afford to fund APAPO entirely on its own — without the “special” assessment. They clearly have the money, between the generous compensation packages they pay their top executives, the $11.4M profit reported in 2010, and the $9.3M profit reported in 2011. The APAPO’s annual budget is only $5M. [↩]