Former Intern Sues Hearst Over Unpaid Work, Seeks Class Action

February 1st, 2012

From Steven Greenhouse:

A former unpaid intern for the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing its parent company, the Hearst Corporation, of violating federal and state wage and hour laws by not paying her even though she often worked there full time.

In her lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, the intern, Xuedan Wang, and her law firm are asking to make the case a class action on behalf of what they say are hundreds of unpaid interns at Heart Magazines, which also publishes Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and Good Housekeeping.

Employment experts say a growing number of young people, hundreds of thousands of them, do unpaid internships each year as they seek to get a foot in the door and gain work experience. But some interns and labor advocates assert that many employers are taking advantage of these interns — and violating Labor Department rules in the process — by using the interns essentially to do the jobs of other workers and not providing a bona fide educational experience.

The lawsuit against Hearst states, “Employers’ failure to compensate interns for their work, and the prevalence of the practice nationwide, curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment.”

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Wang, who graduated from Ohio State University in 2010, was an intern at Harper’s Bazaar from August 2011 to December 2011 and said she generally worked 40 hours a week but sometimes as many as 55 hours. Her lawyers said that Ms. Wang, with a degree in strategic communications, coordinated pickups and deliveries of fashion samples between Harper’s Bazaar and fashion vendors and showrooms and assigned other unpaid interns to help carry out the pickups and deliveries.

She also helped maintain records on the fashion samples and process reimbursement requests for corporate expense reports.

I think she may have some trouble getting a job in the future (would this constitute unlawful retaliation?).

For my prior thoughts on the value of unpaid interns see here, here, and here.