A New York federal judge said Wednesday that he wouldn't stay a proposed class action brought by former unpaid interns seeking to force Conde Nast to pay them wages, ruling the case could go forward despite appeals on the internships' legal status.
U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan refused a request from Conde Nast’s lawyers to put case on hold until the Second Circuit rules in other cases on how to class interns under labor law.
“I’m not willing to stay this,” the judge said. “Discovery is going to go forward.”
New York courts have in recent months grappled with several cases, including the Conde Nast suit, in which unpaid interns have alleged that they were effectively treated as grunt laborers and should have been paid wages. U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III ruled in a case against Fox Entertainment Group Inc. that unpaid interns were employees under the law, but he cleared lawyers in that case to ask the Second Circuit to decide whether he was correct.
In a case against The Hearst Corp., U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. refused to deem unpaid Hearst employees interns. Judge Baer also allowed an appeal in that case.
Judge Sullivan said he didn't need to wait for appeals court rulings before moving forward with his own case. Trial courts often make a range of decisions before an appeals court gets a chance to rule on a legal issue, he said.
“That’s not disparaging the circuit,” he said. “That’s the way it works.”
The judge ordered both sides to submit a proposed plan to move forward by Sept. 25.
“Obviously we're pleased that he declined to issue the stay and that we can move forward with this litigation,” said Juno E. Turner of Outten & Golden LLP, a lawyer for the ex-interns. “We think it's appropriate that these claims be allowed to move forward.”
A lawyer for Conde Nast who appeared at the hearing declined to comment.
The ex-interns behind the suit, brought against Conde Nast parent Advance Magazine Publishers Inc., claim the company relies "on a steady stream of interns to perform entry-level work" to reduce its labor costs.
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The interns want a court order barring Advance from continuing to use interns who are paid below minimum wage and approving the suit as a collective action under the FLSA and as a class action under New York state law.
The Fox, Hearst and Conde Nast suits, though separate actions, pit essentially the same groups of lawyers against each other. The plaintiffs in all three cases are represented by lawyers from Outten & Golden LLP, while the companies have all tapped Proskauer Rose LLP as counsel.
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.
--Additional reporting by Dan Prochilo. Editing by Elizabeth Bowen.