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Hearst Says Unpaid Interns' Claims Too Varied For Class Cert

Law360—Jonathan Randles

The Hearst Corp. pushed back Monday in New York against a bid for class certification brought by a group of unpaid interns who allege the magazine publisher violated federal law by using them to fill gaps in its workforce, saying they fail to show an unlawful companywide policy.

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The putative class suit was first brought against Hearst in February 2012 by named plaintiff Xuedan Wang, who said she had served as an unpaid intern for several months at the company's Harper's Bazaar fashion magazine. The suit alleged that Hearst used unpaid interns to perform tasks that the magazine publisher would otherwise have paid employees to complete.

In July, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. granted conditional certification to the interns under the FLSA, allowing them to pursue those claims collectively. Judge Baer said at the time that Wang met the threshold for conditional FLSA certification by establishing “that other employees 'may be similarly situated' to her.”

Attorneys representing Wang filed a motion for class certification and a separate motion for summary judgment earlier this month. With the summary judgment motion, the interns asked the court to rule that they qualified as employees as defined by the FLSA and NYLL.

The proposed class would include every person who has worked for Hearst in New York as an unpaid intern starting Feb. 1, 2006, and continuing through final judgment in the case.

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Plaintiffs' attorney Juno Turner of Outten & Golden LLP said Hearst's opposition brief misstates their clients' argument and “ignores the reality that Hearst derives an immediate benefit from the interns' unpaid work.”

Turner said internships don't give employers carte blanche to reap the benefits of unpaid work simply because a student may receive academic credit for the internship. To the extent that there are differences between the internships offered at the Hearst magazines, those differences aren't enough to defeat class certification, she said.

Attorneys representing Hearst didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

The 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 number 1:12-cv-00793, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.