Can an employer not pay me for a contract if they claim I violated the contract but it is unclear?

I was hired to write questions for a test prep company. Contract says I get paid royalties after 75 questions are published. In addition to writing the questions we have to compose explanations for the correct answers. Much of the detailed explanation requires historical factual information. I asked if I needed to cite sources and was told no. After getting 71 published I was informed I was terminated for violating the contract. Said it was because some of my explanations were too closely worded to websites like wikipedia entries. This is because there is only so many ways to word historical facts. I mean how many ways are there to state a chain of events that happened? The wording of my questions is fine, its some of the wording of the answer explanations, which again, are historical facts along with my own argument for why its the right answer or the wrong answer to the question. I have ‘worked’ 2-6 hours a week for them since August, and they only told me this today. Not only was my contract terminated but they told me I will be paid no royalties. Can they really pay me no royalties?

Asked on April 5, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Maine

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

They should pay you royalties for any questions which they accept and use. If they do not accept questions, they would have to pay you--but again, they can't have it both ways: if they use your work, they must pay you.
If you believe that they were wrong to reject any questions which they do reject and that you should therefore be paid for them, you could sue them for "breach of contract"--not paying you for acceptable work you did. If they and you do not settle the matter and it goes to court, a judge will decide whether you plagarized, and hence turned in unacceptable work product, or not.
For what it's worth, I used to be the publisher of a $50mm test prep company and also owned my own $1mm test prep company--I would have rejected any questions or answers too close to a published source, especially a widely accessible one like Wikiapedia. You have to take the basic information but put the answer into your own, original words, which admittedly can sometimes be a struggle--but you still have to do it.


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