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Former Conde Nast Interns Seek Class Cert. Over Unpaid Time

Law360—David McAfee

A group of former Conde Nast Publications interns asked a New York federal court Tuesday to conditionally certify a class of interns who say they were not paid minimum wage for all hours worked, noting the court only needs to preliminarily determine that others may be similarly situated.

The decision comes more than a month after a New York federal judge said that he wouldn’t stay the suit, ruling the case could go forward despite appeals on the internships’ legal status. The parent company of Conde Nast, Advance Magazine Publishers Inc., was hit with the suit in June by former interns for W magazine and The New Yorker who claimed the company violated federal and state wage-and-hour laws by failing to compensate them for their work.

Named plaintiff Matthew Leib, an intern who worked for Conde Nast, now seeks authorization to send notice of the suit to other Conde Nast interns so they can decide whether to join the action and stop their Fair Labor Standards Act statutes of limitations from running.

“In order to authorize notice at this early stage, the Court only needs to make an initial determination that Leib and other interns may be similarly situated,” the plaintiffs’ brief says. “Plaintiff alleges that he and other Condé Nast interns are similarly situated because they were unlawfully classified as non-employees who are not covered by the protections of the FLSA and New York Labor Law, they did work that benefited Condé Nast for little or no pay, and they were not enrolled in a training program designed solely to benefit them.”

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The suit accused New York City-based Advance Magazine Publishers — a privately held company that owns Conde Nast Publications, Parade Publications, business journals, newspapers in more than 25 U.S. cities and a series of other publications — of relying "on a steady stream of interns to perform entry-level work" to reduce its labor costs.

The former interns say that under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York State Labor Law, interns who are engaged in the operations of their employer or who perform productive work must receive minimum wage, but the Advance Magazine Publishers interns received about "a dollar an hour, if that."

One of the two named plaintiffs, Lauren Ballinger, worked four days a week for W magazine from June to October 2009, and during that time she put in anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day, she claims. Regardless of how many hours she worked, she was paid $12 a day, according to the complaint.

In September, 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.

The interns want a court order barring Advance Magazine Publishers 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.

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

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The case is Lauren Ballinger et al. v. Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast Publications, case number 1:13-cv-04036, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

--Additional reporting by Dan Prochilo and Richard Vanderford. Editing by Richard McVay.