Unpaid Hearst Interns Seek Class Cert. In FLSA Dispute

Law360 Scott Flaherty
March 10, 2013

A group of former Hearst Corp. interns urged a New York federal court Monday to grant class certification in a suit alleging that the magazine publisher violated labor laws by using interns as cheap fill-ins for gaps in its workforce.

The interns, who allege Hearst’s internship policies run afoul of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law, filed a motion for class certification under the NYLL. A federal judge previously granted conditional certification to the Hearst interns under the FLSA, according to a memorandum filed in support of Monday’s NYLL class certification bid.

Hearst uniformly classified all class members as nonemployees based on one factor that interns are college students who are eligible to receive academic credit for their internships, ” the memorandum said. Substantial evidence shows that interns performed productive work without pay and participated in internships structured around Hearst’s actual operations and not a classroom or academic experience. ”

In addition to seeking class certification, the interns on Monday filed a motion for partial summary judgment.

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 interns also requested liquidated damages, and a judgment that Hearst has willfully ” violated federal and state law based on its utter failure to take any steps to determine whether its policy of not paying interns is legal, ” the memorandum said.

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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. ”

Wang has satisfied this burden by providing allegations and affidavits to the effect that Hearst made a uniform determination that interns were not employees, required all interns to submit college credit letters and used interns to perform entry-level work with little supervision, ” the judge said in July.

Monday’s motion, which was filed by Wang along with several additional named plaintiffs, seeks to certify a class under the 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.

Under a scheduling order, Hearst has a deadline of March 18 to oppose Monday’s class certification and partial summary judgment motions, and file any cross-motions for summary judgment.

Attorneys for Hearst and the interns did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The interns are represented by Adam T. Klein, Rachel M. Bien and Juno Turner of Outten & Golden LLP.

Hearst is represented by in-house counsel Eve B. Burton, Jonathan R. Donnellan, Kristina E. Findikyan and Courtenay B. O’Connor, as well as by Mark W. Batten of Proskauer Rose LLP.

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.