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Interns' case against Hearst falters in wake of Dukes, Comcast

thomsonreuters.com—Carlyn Kolker

A judge on Wednesday ruled that former unpaid interns at publishing giant Hearst Corp can't pursue their case as a class action, echoing recent Supreme Court cases.

In February 2012 Xuedan Wang, a former intern at Harper's Bazaar magazine, sued Hearst, saying she and others were unfairly misclassified. Because she did work that was similar to what others were paid to do, Wang claimed her unpaid internship violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York state labor laws.

"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," stated Wang's complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan.

The case, pursued by law firm Outten & Golden, which specializes in representing workers in wage-and-hour and misclassification cases, sought class action status and was set for trial on May 28.

In a ruling on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer said that the former interns failed to meet the bar set out in the Supreme Court's landmark 2011 case Dukes v. Wal-Mart to constitute a class action. Specifically, Baer found that the interns did not meet the standards of commonality and predominance needed to be considered a class.

"Here, while a close question, the commonality requirement is not satisfied because plaintiffs cannot show anything more than a uniform policy of unpaid internship," Baer wrote, noting that the plaintiffs, while raising that common issue, also had many dissimilarities, as they worked for different magazines and performed different tasks.

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