Condé Nast Ends Internship Program

Wall Street Journal Lauren Weber
October 23, 2013

Magazine publisher Condé Nast, fighting allegations by former interns that they were paid less than $1 an hour for tasks such as proofreading articles and organizing jewelry, is ending its internship program, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday.

In June, Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib, former interns at W Magazine and the New Yorker, respectively, sued the publisher in Federal District Court in Manhattan, alleging that it violated federal and state labor laws. They plan to ask a judge to give their lawsuit class-action status on behalf of Condé Nast interns.

Mr. Leib alleged that the New Yorker paid him well below minimum wage in stipends of $300 to $500 for each of the two summers he had worked at the prestigious weekly, where he reviewed and proofread articles. Ms. Ballinger alleged in the complaint that she was paid $12 a day for shifts of 12 hours or more at the fashion magazine.

In court documents, Condé Nast, whose magazines also include Vanity Fair and Vogue, denied that it violated labor laws.

Condé Nast declined to explain or provide details of its decision to end its internship program, which was reported Wednesday by Women’s Wear Daily, one of its own publications. The program has provided many aspiring writers, editors and designers a coveted entree to the magazine world. The publisher’s current class of interns won’t be affected, a person familiar with the program said.

The decision shows that these burgeoning lawsuits challenging unpaid internships under wage-and-hour laws are having an impact on corporate America, ” said David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston and an expert on the laws governing internships.

Eliminating internship programs might close off opportunities for young people but, he said, if interns’ responsibilities are vital to a company’s operations, that company might create more permanent, entry-level jobs. In those cases, he added, companies shouldn’t have been relying on interns in the first place.

The Labor Department has issued guidelines about what constitutes a valid internship, requiring, for instance, that a company derive no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. ” Many companies fail to clear that bar, said Mr. Yamada. But he said the department generally has chosen to rely on private litigation to enforce its rules.

Our goal isn’t to end internship programs, ” said Rachel Bien, a lawyer with Outten & Golden LLP and the lead attorney for Ms. Ballinger and Mr. Leib. Our goal is to …make sure they’re legal, either by paying minimum wage or making sure they meet the criteria the Department of Labor has spelled out. ”

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Unpaid or low-paid internships have long offered untested workers a foot in the door, particularly at media companies and nonprofit organizations. But some colleges and corporations, along with some interns themselves, have questioned the amount of job training the programs offer and have criticized them for hurting diversity efforts by favoring individuals who can afford to go without a living wage for the weeks or months required.

The Condé Nast lawsuit followed several other high-profile legal actions by interns against their former employers. In June, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that Fox Searchlight had violated federal and New York labor laws by failing to pay production interns on the award-winning film Black Swan. ” Fox Searchlight is a unit of 21st Century Fox Inc., which until recently was part of the same company as Wall Street Journal owner News Corp.

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