Unpaid intern files class action

Posted on: July 23rd, 2012 by Steve Larson
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A federal judge has conditionally granted class action status on behalf of a group of Hearst Corporation interns who allegedly weren’t paid for their work at 19 of the company’s magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping.  Xuedan Wang, a former intern at Harper’s Bazaar from last August to December, sued Hearst earlier this year, alleging the company violated federal and state labor laws by misclassifying her and other workers as unpaid or underpaid interns, rather than employees. As a result, they were denied pay and other benefits, the lawsuit said.

 In her lawsuit, Ms. Wang claims she regularly worked more than 40 hours a week for no pay as an intern and, sometimes, as many as 55 hours a week. She was a head accessories intern at Harper’s Bazaar during that period, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in February in Manhattan federal court.  “For now the plaintiff need only establish that other employees ‘may be similarly situated’ to her,” U.S. District Judge Harold Baer in Manhattan said in conditionally certifying a class of interns in an order issued Thursday.

The judge said Ms. Wang, at this point in the case, made sufficient arguments to certify a class.  He said she provided affidavits showing that Hearst made a uniform determination that interns weren’t employees, required all interns to submit college credit letters and used interns to perform entry-level work with little supervision. The proposed class is all persons who worked as unpaid or underpaid interns at Hearst’s magazines between February 1, 2009, and until the case is resolved.

Hearst’s lawyers said in court papers that Ms. Wang’s argument that Hearst’s policies violate fair labor laws would require the court to read the law “in a novel and rigid way, as no other court has read it.”

“Plaintiff’s extreme view of the law is her only hope for certification,” said Jonathan R. Donnellan, a lawyer for the company, in court papers filed last month. “Plaintiff’s class allegations of an illegal corporate policy are baseless.”

Mr. Donnellan said in court papers that the company’s only policy governing unpaid interns at its magazines is a requirement that they be students who earn academic credit for their semester-long internship.