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Conde Nast Agrees To Settle Intern Class Action For $5.85M

Law360—Ben James

Conde Nast Publications agreed to pay $5.85 million to resolve a putative class action brought by two former interns at the New Yorker and W magazine who claimed they were unlawfully denied minimum wage, the plaintiffs told a New York federal court Thursday.

Named plaintiffs Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Lieb filed a motion for preliminary approval of a class action deal that would resolve both federal and state wage claims, pointing out that there was an inherent risk in pursuing the case because what legal test should apply to intern wage claims is still being mulled by the Second Circuit.

In intern cases against Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. and Hearst Corp., New York federal courts adopted different tests for ascertaining whether an intern qualifies as an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Conde Nast plaintiffs said. Those cases, part of a rash of intern wage cases against big-name employers, are on appeal.

“Two very different outcomes resulted in these cases — in one, the court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs; in the other, the court denied summary judgment,” the interns said in a memorandum supporting their preliminary approval bid. “These very different outcomes demonstrate the uncertainty that the parties face. The proposed settlement alleviates this uncertainty.”

The suit was filed in June 2013, invoking the FLSA and the New York Labor Law. The parties reached an agreement on key terms, including the settlement amount, in March. The class covers an estimated 7,500 people, the agreement said.

Ballinger, who interned at W magazine in 2009, claimed she was paid $12 per day no matter how long she worked. She and others said they regularly performed productive work that benefited Conde Nast and saved it money, yet the company not only underpaid them but also provided them no educational experience.

Lieb was an intern for the New Yorker during the summers of 2009 and 2010, when he reviewed submissions, answered reader emails, proofread copy and relayed documents between writers, cartoonists and editors. He was paid a few hundred dollars for his work, the lawsuit claims.

The proposed settlement, under which Conde Nast will pay up to $5.85 million to cover payments to class members, plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and costs, service payments and claims administration fees, covers two overlapping groups of class members.

The FLSA collective group covers all people who had Conde Nast internships since June 13, 2010, and the New York class covers those with Conde Nast internships in New York state since June 13, 2007.

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The plaintiffs are represented by Rachel Bien, Juno Turner and Michael Litrownik of Outten & Golden LLP.

The case is Ballinger et al v. Advance Magazine Publishers Inc., case number 1:13-cv-04036, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.