Labor & Employment

Unpaid Intern Sues Harper's Bazaar Publisher for Wages and Overtime, Seeks Class Action Status


Updated: Labor lawyers have been sounding a warning in recent years that employers could be violating the law by hiring unpaid interns to do work that ordinarily would be performed by a paid employee.

And now a lawsuit seeks to put that argument to the test, contending that a 28-year-woman who says she worked up to 55 hours per week, without pay, as an intern at Harper’s Bazaar last year must be treated like any other employee under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, according to Reuters.

Xuedan “Diana” Wang seeks class action status for her suit, which was filed Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan. She contends that Hearst Corp., which owns Harper’s Bazaar and other magazines, hires hundreds of interns in violation of the FLSA.

“If the interns weren’t doing the work, then they would have to hire someone else to do it,” associate Elizabeth Wagoner of Outten & Golden, who is representing Wang, told Reuters.

However, a spokesman for Hearst said the company has done nothing wrong:

“The internship programs at each of our magazines are designed to enhance the educational experience of students who are receiving academic credit for their participation, and are otherwise fully in compliance with applicable laws,” Paul Luthringer told the ABA Journal. “We intend to vigorously defend this matter.”

A Web page posted by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor provides guidelines for determining whether an intern is considered an employee who must be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime under the FLSA.

“If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled compensation,” the department says.

The Media Decoder blog of the New York Times also has a story about Wang and her suit. It says she took the internship, which offered academic credit, after graduating from Ohio State University in 2010.

“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,” Outten partner Adam Klein, who also represents Wang, told the blog. “The practice of classifying employees as ‘interns’ to avoid paying wages runs afoul of federal and state wage and hour laws.”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Law Firms Beware: Unpaid Internships May Violate Labor Law, Practitioners Say”

ABAJournal.com: “As Feds Eye Unpaid Internships Warily, Written Agreement Can Show Compliance”

ABAJournal.com: “Fla. Law Schools See Flood of Law Firm Requests for Unpaid Summer Associates”

ABAJournal.com: “In Latest Misclassification Suit, Interns on Hit Movie Black Swan Seek Pay for the Work of 100s”

Last updated at 2:30 p.m. to clarify target of lawsuit.

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