Across the nation from Pennsylvania to California, interns are watching as the courts set a discouraging legal precedence when a federal judge determined that a group of interns for a large publishing company could not ask to be treated as regular employees after the fact. On May 8, the judge entered the ruling and added that the employees will need to file individual lawsuits against the firm.
The class-action lawsuit encompassed more than 3,000 unpaid workers who served at the company since Feb. 2006. The group of people claimed that they did similar jobs as regular employees and should have received minimum wage and overtime pay according to labor laws that protect workers from injury or in the event of Wrongful Death. However, the publisher countered that the interns received college credit for their work and said they offered some training and incentives to the group.
A lawyer who focuses on intern rights related that the cost of filing separate lawsuits might keep the unpaid workers from pursuing legal action. The attorney who represented the interns may appeal the verdict and added that unpaid workers had the same rights as paid workers.
Other interns have filed a class-action lawsuit in the media industry, and another unpaid worker suggested a class-action lawsuit against a modeling company. However, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an employee class-action lawsuit by a huge supermarket chain in 2011.
The labor force has utilized interns throughout the years as a way to bring inexpensive help to businesses and provide the interns with some much-needed experience. However, when employers take advantage of an intern or employee, workers could have certain legal rights. An attorney with a background in employee rights might be able to help clients pursue legal action.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "As Summer Job Season Starts, Unpaid Interns Suffer Setback in Court", Venessa Wong, May 13, 2013