Court Gives Green Light to Interns’ Wage-Hour Class Action

Last week, a federal district court in New York conditionally certified a lawsuit brought by a group of former unpaid interns against the Hearst Corporation to go forward as a class action.

The suit alleges that the publisher “used interns at 19 magazines to complete tasks necessary to its operations such as to answer phones, make deliveries, and organize clothing and accessories.” The proposed class consists of “unpaid or underpaid interns” who worked at Hearst magazines in the last three years. Interns who might qualify will now receive notification of the lawsuit and information about how to join it.

This suit and the one last fall against Fox Searchlight by two interns who worked on the Black Swan movie, have highlighted how important it is for employers to get internship status right. These suits have also gained the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor who now says it will increase its scrutiny of internships.  

Federal law requires internships to meet six basic criteria to be unpaid. If all of the criteria are not met, the worker should be a paid employee. The criteria are:

       the internship should be similar to training given in an educational environment,
       the experience must be for the benefit of the intern,
       the intern cannot displace regular employees,
       the employer derives no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities,
       the intern is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship, and
       the employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages during the internship.
See the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet #71 Internships under the FLSA for more information.
Contact MSEC for assistance and, when in doubt, make that intern a paid employee.