Unpaid Intern Sues Magazine for Minimum Wage, Overtime

Reuters - Jonathan Allen
February 1, 2012

A former intern at Harper’s Bazaar is suing the magazine’s publisher, Hearst Corporation, saying that her internship violates labor laws because it was unpaid, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York on Wednesday.

Xuedan Wang, 28, was an intern at the magazine’s accessories department from August to December last year, where she typically worked at least 40 hours a week, and sometimes as much as 55 hours, without pay, according to her lawsuit.

“Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work,” the lawsuit says.

“Employers’ failure to compensate interns for their work, and the prevalence of the practice nationwide, curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment.”

The lawsuit contends that Wang, who also uses the first name Diana, and hundreds of other unpaid interns like her are a “crucial labor force” at Hearst.

“If the interns weren’t doing the work then they would have to hire someone else to do it,” Elizabeth Wagoner, one of Wang’s lawyers, said in an interview — a sign, she said, that labor laws are being broken.

Wang and her lawyers hope to ask other people who have worked as unpaid interns for Hearst to join the class-action lawsuit. Wang is seeking minimum-wage pay and overtime pay in damages.

According to information for prospective interns published on the Hearst careers website, the company does not pay its interns but instead offers them academic credit, a practice that is widespread among publishing companies and in other competitive industries.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, a company may legally offer unpaid internships so long as they are educational and benefit the intern and not necessarily the employer, according to information published on the Department of Labor’s website.

The department says that unpaid interns must not displace regular employees and that “the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”