Unpaid Intern Lawsuits Seek to Enforce Wage and Hour Laws

Intern_2_(7486859308).jpgInternships are often a good way for college students and others to gain experience in a field, such as film or journalism, in the hopes of getting a full-time job after graduation. Some of these internships include a salary, stipend, or course credit, but many interns essentially work for free. While some students might be willing to make such a sacrifice in order to gain experience or contacts, unpaid internships might violate state or federal labor laws. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other laws provide guidelines to help identify when employers must pay interns at least minimum wage, and multiple pending lawsuits are seeking to enforce interns’ right to compensation for their work.

The FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., has a very broad definition of “employ,” describing it as “to suffer or permit to work.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(g). It allows exceptions for individuals volunteering for charitable groups and other nonprofit organizations, but generally nearly anyone working for a for-profit company may be considered “employed.” The U.S. Department of Labor has developed a set of guidelines for determining whether an internship falls under the FLSA’s coverage regarding overtime compensation and minimum wage. An internship program that meets these six criteria is not subject to FLSA requirements:
1. The internship resembles a training program in an educational institution;
2. The purpose of the internship is to benefit the intern;
3. The employer does not benefit directly from the intern’s experience;
4. The intern works under existing employees and does not displace them;
5. The employer makes no promise or representation of a job after the internship; and 6. Both the employer and the intern understand and agree that the intern will not receive compensation for the internship.

New York, as a center of the journalism and entertainment industries, is the forum for numerous lawsuits asserting interns’ rights to compensation for their work. Many of these lawsuits allege that employer use interns as free labor with no particular education benefit. A class action lawsuit filed by a former magazine intern alleges that the lead plaintiff worked anywhere from forty to fifty-five hours per week for Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, but received no salary or other compensation. Wang, et al v. The Hearst Corp., No. 1:12-cv-00793, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Feb. 1, 2012). The suit includes collective action allegations of FLSA violations regarding minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping; and class action allegations of similar violations of the New York Labor Law (NYLL). A lawsuit that began with two interns who worked on the film Black Swan grew into a similar class action lawsuit seeking up to $5 million in damages. Glatt, et al v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., No. 1:11-cv-06784, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Sept. 28, 2011).

The PBS journalist Charlie Rose and his production company agreed late last year to settle a lawsuit brought by 190 former interns, alleging failure to pay wages in accordance with the NYLL. The lead plaintiff worked as an intern on The Charlie Rose Show for about twenty-five hours per week during the summer of 2007. She alleged violations of NYLL minimum wage and recordkeeping requirements in her complaint. Bickerton, et al v. Rose, et al, No. 650780/2012, complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct. – New York Co., Mar. 14, 2012). The settlement included $250,000 in back pay.

The employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group help employees in New Jersey and New York assert their rights under state and federal wage and hour laws. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

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NLRB Rules that Facebook Posts Regarding Coworkers Were Protected Concerted Activity, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, February 7, 2013
New Jersey Passes Law Against Gender Discrimination, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 2, 2012
New Jersey Overtime Pay: Know Your Workplace Rights, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 4, 2012
Photo credit: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Intern 2 Uploaded by MaybeMaybeMaybe) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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