Condé Nast has agreed to pay former interns $5.8m in the settlement of a class-action lawsuit accusing the magazine company of underpaying its workers.
The New York-based publisher will retroactively pay more than 7,000 former interns from the past seven years who had worked at Vanity Fair, Vogue and other magazines. Payments will range from $700 to $1,900, according to the settlement.
Matthew Leib and Lauren Ballinger, who interned with the New Yorker and W Magazine respectively, said in the suit that Condé Nast paid them less than a dollar an hour. Their attorneys argued that the tasks they performed, such as proofreading articles and organizing and delivering fashion accessories to editors, amount to the same work as an ordinary employee, and thus deserved payment. One of their attorneys, Rachel Bien, said the interns consider the settlement “favorable”.
Condé Nast ended its internship program last year, five months after the interns sued.
In an internal Condé Nast email sent Thursday, CEO Chuck Townsend said “settling the lawsuit is the right business decision for Condé Nast, as it allows us to focus our time and resources on developing meaningful, new opportunities to support future up-and-coming talent.”
Former interns have filed similar lawsuits against Harper’s Bazaar of the Hearst Corporation, Gawker Media and successfully against Fox Searchlight. Last month NBC Universal agreed to give former interns a total of $6.4m, and in 2013 a judge ruled that Fox Searchlight had violated federal minimum wage law by not paying two interns who worked on the film Black Swan. Fox Searchlight has appealed.
Eric Glatt, one of the former interns involved in the Black Swan suit and a supporter of the Intern Labor Rights group, told the Guardian it was “another victory” for interns’ rights.
“This is a serious issue, and employers ignore it at their peril. The tide is moving in the direction of paying everybody for their labor, including students, whom employers traditionally exploit with the term ‘intern’. These big settlements validate that we’re on the right side of this issue.”
Glatt said that Condé Nast likely suspended its internship program because of the litigation. He said he believes it and other companies will restore programs under new terms to recruit students and recently graduates, and attributes a recent rush to unpaid internships to the recession economy.
Many companies offer college credit in return for unpaid internships, or argue that the work experience itself, especially if at a prestigious magazine or thinktank, is valuable enough to justify a lack of payment or minimal stipends. Some magazines and organizations maintain a non-profit status, which exempts legally them from certain minimum wage requirements for interns.