College students who were unpaid interns working for academic credit also should have received pay under federal and state laws, a prominent employment lawyer claims.
“You have the right to make a claim for unpaid wages even if you agreed to be classified as an unpaid intern or trainee,” said the lawyer, Jeffrey K. Brown, a partner in the New York law firm Leeds Brown Law PC, who has filed state and federal class-action lawsuits seeking to recover pay for former interns at several prominent media companies and fashion design firms.
“The bottom line is that just because you agreed to work as an intern and you received academic credit from your college doesn’t mean you gave up your right to be paid,” Brown said.
The lawsuits, against such companies as MTV, Madison Square Garden, Sony Music, Warner Music Donna Karan and others, seek back wages on behalf of the hundreds of interns who’ve worked for the companies, some as far back as 2007.
The raft of suits were kicked off after a federal judge ruled in June that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated wage laws by not paying interns working on “Black Swan,” the movie starring Natalie Portman. The same month, 189 interns who once worked for Charlie Rose and his TV production company were given about $1,100 in back wages after they brought a lawsuit against the newsman for not paying them.
“When an intern receives no wages, the primary recipient of the benefits should be the intern – not the company,” said Brown.
Unpaid internships must exist for training purposes and employers may derive “no immediate advantage” from the work provided by interns, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“Unpaid interns and are ‘employees’ under New York labor law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and they are eligible to sue for unpaid wages going back six years,” said Brown. “Corporations must be held accountable for their exploitation of young men and women entering the workforce.”
Brown’s partner, Len Leeds, added: “College students and recent graduates are among our most vulnerable workers. They are desperate to gain employment, and often will accept any work without compensation in the hope of one day gaining fulltime employment with a company. Corporations realize this, and often exploit these workers to obtain free labor.”
Leeds Brown has set up a web site, internshiprights.com, where interns and former interns can find additional information. Or, for more information call 1-800-585-4658.