Unpaid Intern Sues Celebrity Twins Under State Wage and Hour Laws

A former intern for the company founded by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, commonly known as the Olsen Twins, has filed a putative class action against the company in a Manhattan state court. Lalani v. Dualstar Entm’t Group, LLC, No. 158205/2015, complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Co., Aug. 7, 2015). The lawsuit alleges that the company unlawfully classified workers as interns and therefore did not pay them any wages. It asserts causes of action under state minimum wage law. People employed as interns often forego wages in favor of academic credit or specific job training. Courts are beginning to enforce the right of interns to be treated as paid employees if they are not receiving an educational benefit from the job. See, e.g. Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, No. 1:11-cv-06784, mem. order (S.D.N.Y., Jun. 11, 2013) (finding that production interns on the film Black Swan were entitled to compensation).

The Olsen Twins first became famous by jointly playing the character Michelle Tanner on the ABC sitcom Full House from 1987, when they were barely one year old, until 1995. They reportedly founded Dualstar, the defendant in the present case, at age six in 1993. Since then, they have built a massive business that includes films, clothing, and other products, and that is valued at around $1 billion.

According to her complaint, the lead plaintiff worked for the defendant from May through September 2012. Her job duties included office administrative tasks and support of paid employees. She claims that she worked five days a week for approximately 50 hours each week and received no compensation for the work she performed. She also received no “academic or vocational training” through her work for the defendant. Lalani, complaint at 5.

The plaintiff alleges that the defendant, as early as 2009, adopted “a corporate policy or practice of minimizing labor costs by denying…compensation” to the plaintiff and other class members in violation of state law. Id. The lawsuit asserts two causes of action: violation of state minimum wage laws and unlawful failure to pay compensation.

The minimum wage in the state of New York is $8.75 per hour as of December 31, 2014. N.Y. Lab. L. § 652(1), 12 NYCRR § 142-2.1(a)(4). State law defines an “employee,” for minimum wage purposes, as “any individual employed or permitted to work by an employer in any occupation,” with some exceptions, including someone employed “as a volunteer, learner or apprentice by a corporation.” N.Y. Lab. L. § 651(5)(f).

New York state law defines an “employee” in a more general sense as “any person employed for hire by an employer in any employment.” N.Y. Lab. L. § 190(2). As an alternative to the minimum wage claim, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated its general obligation under state law to pay wages. See N.Y. Lab. L. §§ 191(1)(d), 190(7).

New Jersey law places similar duties on employers. This state’s minimum wage, as of January 1, 2015, is $8.38 per hour. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a, N.J.A.C. § 12:56-3.1. “Employee” is defined quite broadly as “any individual employed by an employer.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a1(h). Certain employees are exempt from the minimum wage law, but interns working for an educational benefit are not among them. N.J.A.C. § 12:56-3.2.

If you need to speak to an attorney about an overtime or wage violation in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

More than $7 Million in Back Pay Owed to New Jersey Workers from Federal Wage and Hour Law Enforcement Remains Unclaimed, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 11, 2015
New Federal Regulation Requires Businesses to Disclose CEO-to-Employee Pay Ratios, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, August 27, 2015
New Laws Require Employers in Some New Jersey Cities to Provide Paid Sick Leave to Employees, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, August 6, 2015

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