Former Hearst Corp. magazine interns who are suing the publisher over unpaid wages fought to keep alive their putative class action Friday in New York federal court, insisting they received almost no educational benefit from their internships.
Led by Ohio State graduate Xuedan Wang, the interns said they received minimal supervision and often performed routine, low-level tasks like running errands, sending packages or copying documents. They argue the work they did around Hearst’s Manhattan offices allowed the publisher to control costs by not having to hire additional employees, freelancers or couriers.
“Plaintiffs did much of the work of Hearst’s entry-level employees, allowing Hearst to ‘exploit [plaintiffs] by using their free labor without providing them with an appreciable benefit in education or experience,’” the group wrote.
Hearst had a different perspective when it moved in late January for judgment in the suit, arguing each plaintiff’s internship provided them with an opportunity to learn about the magazine industry. It noted that many received academic credit from their schools for the internship.
The publisher argued that should be enough to satisfy the requirements laid out recently by the Second Circuit in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight. In that case, the Second Circuit adopted a seven-factor test that examines whether an employer or intern is the primary beneficiary of a relationship.
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Responding Friday, the interns argued academic credit was just one factor of the framework outlined in the Glatt case. And a jury could reasonably find that any learning they did receive was offset by the work they did for the benefit of Hearst’s employees, the group said.
“The ‘economic reality’ was that plaintiffs were indistinguishable from Hearst’s regular employees,” the interns wrote.
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Wang, one of the main plaintiffs, claims she regularly worked more than 40 hours per week as an unpaid intern at Harper's Bazaar. She argued interns were becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level workers, except they are either underpaid or not paid at all.
Another plaintiff, former Howard University student Erin Spencer, worked in Cosmo’s booking department for three months, organizing files, holding casting calls for models and helping at photo shoots, among other things. She too contends Hearst was less interested in teaching her, and more interested in obtaining work from her.
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The interns — whose class certification request was denied in May 2013 — asked if they could seek certification of a narrower class following the remand, but U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken denied that request, without prejudice, in December, saying they should wait for resolution of Hearst’s summary judgment motion.
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The interns are represented by Rachel Bien, Juno Turner and Deirdre Aaron of Outten & Golden 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.