Students: It’s Time for Summer! (And Unpaid Internship Concerns)
May 23, 2014
As the school year comes to a close, many college and graduate students are heading home for a leisurely summer, planning vacations, or working summer jobs. A significant number of students, however, plan to spend their summers gaining experience in their relevant field and building their resume through internships. Due to the dearth of paid internships in this economy, many students have likely accepted to participate in unpaid internships, hoping the educational gain and training will be worth receiving no pay for the summer.
Unfortunately, as we have previously discussed on this blog, unpaid internships have received negative scrutiny from an employment law standpoint in recent years. Numerous allegations have been made that instead of providing valuable education or training, companies have merely been using unpaid interns as free labor by having them perform mundane tasks that an employee would normally perform. In 2010, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) issued specific guidance on what an internship must entail in order for a company to legally provide no compensation. Following this DOL communication, many interns realized that they may have deserved to be paid for the work they performed as interns.
Numerous unpaid interns have come forward and filed lawsuits against the companies for unpaid wages. To date, lawsuits have been filed against the following companies:
Code Blue Billing & Coding, Inc.
Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc.
New York City Department of Education
The Hearst Corporation
Charlie Rose, Inc.
Collier Anesthesia, P.A. and Wolford College
Fenton Fallon Corp.
Fashion designer Brian Lichtenberg
Viacom Inc., MTV Networks Music Production Inc., and MTV Networks Enterprises Inc.
Donna Karan International Inc. and Donna Karan Studio LLC
Bazillion Pictures, Inc.
Elite Model Management Corporation
The Portela Law Firm, P.C
Pittsburgh Power Football
Fashion designer Norma Kamali
Condé Nast Publications
Warner Music Group Corp. and Atlantic Recording Corp.
Gawker Media LLC
21C Media Group, Inc.
Sony Music Entertainment
Universal Music Group Inc. and Bad Boy Entertainment Inc.
MSG Holdings LP and The Madison Square Garden Co.
The lawsuits are all in various stages, as some are still in progress, a few were dismissed, while many of them came to settlement agreements. For example, Elite Model Management agreed to pay past interns $450,000 in unpaid wages.
Many companies have taken a good look at their unpaid internship programs in light of the lawsuits. For instance, NBC Universal started compensating all interns with at least the minimum hourly wage, while Conde Nast completely ended its internship program. Countless companies, however, are likely still offering unpaid internships that do not meet the DOL criteria, so all unpaid interns should take a close look at their position to determine whether or not they deserve a fair wage.