As we have discussed in earlier blogs, a culture of not paying interns has evolved. Many college interns willingly take free internships in exchange for resume boosting experience. Sometimes that sought-after experience is little more than administrative and menial labor, like data entry, running errands, and keeping the office clean. Sometimes the intern takes on tasks essential to the company’s operations. In either case, if the intern was not called an intern, he or she would be entitled to pay under New York and federal wage and hour laws.
The good news is there is a clear trend towards recognizing interns as employees and contributors to the organizations for which they work. Interns deserve pay and protection from discrimination like all other employees. Two major developments in the trend are the adoption of statutory protections for interns and the impending decision on unpaid internships by a federal appellate court.
New York Anti-Discrimination Law
Until last year, New York’s State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) did not expressly provide protection against discrimination and harassment to interns. In one 2013 case applying the NYSHRL and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), a federal court confirmed this lack of protection after an intern sued her employer for sexual harassment.
The intern claimed that her supervisor had discussed sexually explicit information with her, lured her into his hotel room on a business trip where he groped her and used force to attempt to kiss her. Subsequently, she claimed retaliation, egregious conduct that would usually strongly favor the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Unfortunately, the court found that neither NYSHRL nor NYCHRL provided her any protection because the laws only protected employees, not interns.
That case has changed things for interns in New York State. First, in March of 2014, New York City added express protections for interns to its Human Rights Law. A few months later, New York State passed legislation extending discrimination and harassment protection to interns.
Second Circuit Hears Consolidated Unpaid Intern Cases
We have previously discussed Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, the case in which two interns succeeded in a lawsuit against Fox on the grounds that its failure to pay them a minimum wage and overtime during their unpaid internship was illegal under New York and federal wage and hour laws.
Another case, Wang v. The Hearst Corporation, decided a year prior to Glatt, was less favorable for interns. The court there applied a different test from the one utilized in Glatt and found that the interns were not entitled to compensation under New York State and federal law.
Not surprisingly, both cases were appealed and the 2nd Circuit, a federal appellate court, and heard oral arguments on them earlier this year. No opinion has been issued on either case, but we are awaiting the outcome which will significantly impact the rights of interns in New York.
The cases have gained such widespread media attention and public support that many employers have already begun shifting how they treat unpaid interns.
Wage and Hour Cases
Cases related to non-payment of minimum wage and overtime are not limited to interns. Wage and hour complaints occur from employees of all different industries who are entitled to the minimum wage for their work and often, overtime pay for hours over 40 per week. If you have not been paid or have been underpaid by your employer contact the New York employment law attorneys at Joseph & Norinsberg at (212) JUSTICE or [email protected].