My recent experience with American Translators Association
Thread poster: Grigory Ambrozheichik

Grigory Ambrozheichik
Local time: 01:30
English to Russian
Jan 20, 2016

I think it may be useful information for fellow translators so please bear with a bit of detail that I believe is necessary.

I had a one-time client who didn’t pay me for a job completed on time and with no issues whatsoever. When confronted (after multiple emails) they said their records showed the job as paid. Upon further inquiry it transpired they had misaddressed their Paypal payment and the money had been returned (as evidenced by a Paypal statement). Despite this the client claimed they’d already “paid” me and discontinued all further communication. The amount, fortunately, was small but I’d never been treated in such an awful way as I was by this client so I decided to complain to ATA where the client was a member, apparently even active in ATA functions and contributing to its publications.

ATA has a code of ethics and a formal complaints procedure so I lodged a complaint to see if ATA would uphold the standard they professed to lift up. Three and a half months later, having received no response, I checked with the Ethics Committee chairman but received no answer. Three weeks later, after my repeated emails, I received a reply saying they'd get back to me soonest and “you understand these things take time…”. Seven months passed; nothing. I wrote again and received a promise of a complete answer by the end of the week. Finally, not by the end of the week but 3 weeks later, I received the results of their investigation. Apart from valuable findings by the committee such as “the monies paid ended up someplace but not in the rightful place”, I learned that only repeated violations were considered as such.

I expressed my disappointment with ATA – who proposed to promote translation ethics – for, instead, absolving their member of any responsibility for a clearly unethical behavior. That didn’t resonate with the committee who simply reiterated their decision and, this time, informed me that the respondent was no longer in existence as a translation agency and, consequently, no longer an ATA member. Voila! It turned out that some time in the 12 months it had taken ATA to process my complaint, the respondent had been acquired by another translation agency.

Now, I didn't think it should keep ATA from recognizing the fact of violation so I appealed to the president… No response for two weeks. More emails. To make a long story short, the president did nothing but repeated what I'd already heard from the committee. Thus ends my 15-month ATA saga.

I realize one should be prepared to encounter all kinds of clients but I guess I wasn’t ready for this from a major association such as ATA… well, not a major one in my book any more.


[Edited at 2016-01-22 12:46 GMT]


 

Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:30
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Sue Jan 24, 2016

This is not legal advice, but perhaps you should consider suing. Good luck!

 

Kuochoe Nikoi  Identity Verified
Ghana
Local time: 22:30
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Too late Jan 24, 2016

Tim Friese wrote:

This is not legal advice, but perhaps you should consider suing. Good luck!

Too late for him to sue, I'm afraid, since the client has already sold his agency to another company.
Still, this client's excuse was an interesting one. Wait till the electricity company hears that if I pay the wrong person and they send the money back then I don't have to pay my bills any more!


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
Couldn't you take it up with the company that acquired them? Jan 24, 2016

They acquired your customer's assets and liabilities, which include a debt to you.

[Edited at 2016-01-24 08:07 GMT]


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:30
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
like Phil Jan 24, 2016

I'm pretty sure that when you buy a company it must be a legal requirement for you to shoulder their liabilities, otherwise it would be all too easy to just sell your company to your spouse just to get debtors off your back, then your spouse could sell it back the minute they don't feel like paying some bills.

I wonder how much you would have to have lost through "repeated violations" before ATA took you seriously. Probably the kind of sum that would prompted us all to gasp that you should have taken action after the very first non-payment issue rather than letting that amount build up.

Thanks for the info anyway and I'd be interested to hear about any subsequent developments.

And I certainly feel for you!


 

Kuochoe Nikoi  Identity Verified
Ghana
Local time: 22:30
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
They don't include the debt Jan 24, 2016

As far as the client was concerned he didn't owe grundik any money, so I doubt it would show up in the company records as a debt. I'm not sure what a lawyer could do in that case, especially since grundik didn't pursue the case with the client any further before the agency was sold.

[none of this is legal advice, btw. I am not a lawyer]


 

Grigory Ambrozheichik
Local time: 01:30
English to Russian
TOPIC STARTER
It's more about ATA now Jan 24, 2016

Thanks for your comments! My loss was a small one (luckily) so it's more about their reputation, in particular that of ATA since it's the subject of this thread. In my estimation, they failed as a translators' association and I now hear from some ATA members it's no help when a corporate ATA member acts unethically.

 

Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Is ATA the right place to deal with this sort of matters? Jan 24, 2016

I could be wrong, but if someone owes me money, does not pay and refuses to pay claiming they do not owe me anything, I would further discuss the matter with them, and if unfruitful, go to a lawyer. I would also do it in the course of one or two months maximum.

I have always seen ATA as an organization that certifies your translation skills. I have never been under an impression that they could help anybody recover their money. Again, I could be wrong here.


 

Grigory Ambrozheichik
Local time: 01:30
English to Russian
TOPIC STARTER
It's not about money Jan 24, 2016


I have always seen ATA as an organization that certifies your translation skills. I have never been under an impression that they could help anybody recover their money. Again, I could be wrong here.


I did not ask ATA to recover my money. What I did clearly ask was to do what they say they do, i.e. deal with unethical behavior on the part of their member.


 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:30
German to English
ATA conflict of interest Jan 24, 2016

Disclaimer: I am no longer a member of the ATA.
As far as I know, the ATA does not engage in resolving disputes between translators and clients, and I'm not entirely sure that this is a proper role for such an organization. For example, doctor-patient disputes are not mediated by the American Medical Association. Promoting ethical standards does not mean that the ATA must enforce such standards.

The composition of the membership of the ATA poses a potential conflict of interest, as the organization includes both translators and agencies. It cannot represent the interests of both groups, since in many cases, such interests conflict. Including agencies in the membership may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but nowadays many agencies are owned by other corporate interests such as hedge funds who view quality as secondary to profit.

Having to wait such a long time for a response from the ATA doesn't surprise me. After all, it took the organization 30 years to realize that translators use computers, and it has yet to implement a test that reflects how translators really work. In most venues, testing still involves a handwritten examination with no online access. I've been translating since 1969 – and using a computer since 1983 – and apart from a few recipes, I have yet to produce a translation using anything other than a keyboard.

As others have suggested, pursuing a legal remedy may be your best option.


 


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