2nd Circ. To Hear Hearst Interns' Class Cert Appeal

Law360—Abigail Rubenstein

A New York federal judge gave the green light to former unpaid interns bringing a wage-and-hour suit against Hearst Corp. to appeal his ruling denying them class certification, saying the Second Circuit could also provide clarity for other pending intern suits.

U.S. District Judge Harold Baer granted a bid by former interns Xuedan Wang and Erin Spencer to certify for interlocutory appeal his May 7 ruling refusing  to certify a class on their New York Labor Law and denying them partial summary judgment on the question of whether they qualified as “employees” under federal and state wage law.  

In his order allowing the plaintiffs to seek immediate review by the Second Circuit, Judge Baer said that controlling questions of law were present — including whether the criteria were met for class certification and whether a totality of the circumstances test was the right one for evaluating the interns' employment status  — and that answers from the Second Circuit on these questions would not only provide clarity for the present case but also for other cases brought by interns in the circuit. 

“A decision on these questions will significantly affect the conduct of other lawsuits now pending in the district courts which have relied on other legal standards or the same legal standard, but have come out differently,” the judge said.

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In that case, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that two interns who had who worked on the Fox Searchlight-produced movie “Black Swan,” should have been classified as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act and certified a class of interns who worked in five Fox Entertainment Group units in New York to bring related claims under state law .

“[A]s the questions raised by plaintiffs in this case and in Glatt are difficult and one of first impression, they clearly provide fodder for different opinions and have spawned them,” Judge Baer said.

If the Second Circuit provides clarification or a different legal standard, it will guide the resolution of outstanding issues pending throughout the circuit, he said. 

“We're pleased that the judge agreed with our motion that these issues are ripe for review, and we are hopeful that the Second Circuit will see things our way,” Juno Turner of Outten & Golden LLP, who represents the plaintiffs, told Law360.

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The Second Circuit will still have to decide whether or not to review the judge's ruling.

If the Second Circuit does agree to take the case at this stage, its ruling could have a significant impact in the wage-and-hour realm where suits by interns claiming they should have been treated as employees and paid minimum wage and overtime are becoming increasingly popular.

The suit against Hearst, which Wang, a former intern at Harper's Bazaar, originally filed in February 2012, marked part of a beginning of a wave of intern suits.

And even more interns have lodged suits in the wake of the ruling in favor of the interns in the Fox Searchlight case.    

The Hearst interns are represented by Adam T. Klein, Rachel M. Bien and Juno Turner of Outten & Golden LLP.

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The case is Wang v. The Hearst Corp., case No. 1:12-cv-00793, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.