A bill that was recently introduced in the New York Legislature would provide unpaid interns with many of the same statutory protections that employees across the state currently enjoy. S05951 would make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against interns who are members of a protected class. If the proposed measure is approved, interns would be legally protected from discrimination based upon race, creed, age, national origin, color, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, and other factors. It would also provide unpaid employees with both sexual harassment and whistleblower protections.
The bill was introduced by democratic lawmaker Liz Krueger of Manhattan. She stated a recent New York federal court ruling in which an intern's sexual harassment lawsuit was dismissed for lack of standing under the New York Human Rights Law demonstrates the need for the proposed legislation. In the past, some courts have also held that interns are not afforded the same protections as employees under federal civil rights laws. If the proposed measure is passed, New York will become the second state to provide unpaid interns with substantially similar legal protections as paid employees. Oregon enacted a so-called intern rights law in June.
Employers in New York, New Jersey, and throughout the nation are not legally required to treat each worker fairly. For example, in some situations an employer may engage in nepotism, favoritism, or simple "office politics." An employee who is treated poorly may only seek legal action where the discrimination was based on a legally protected status. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discriminating against a worker based on race, religion, color, sex, or national origin. Both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law prohibit employment discrimination based on gender and other factors. New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination also makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate in any job-related action on the basis of one or more of the statute's protected categories.