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Former Unpaid Intern Files Wage and Hour Lawsuit Against Harper's Bazaar and Hearst

February 2, 2012

According to a recent New York Times article that Vincent Howard, managing attorney of Howard Law, has been following--an unpaid intern who formerly worked for Harper's Bazaar magazine, filed a lawsuit this week accusing the both the fashion magazine and the Hearst Corporation, Harper's parent company, of violating wage and hour laws by making her work full time hours, without compensation.

As our Costa Mesa employment lawyers blog has recently reported, unpaid internships continue to be a hot topic in federal employment news, as a growing number of young people who do unpaid internships for experience and future employment, are often taken advantage of by employers who break wage and hour laws. Many unpaid interns and labor advocates claim that employers exploit internships by classifying the workers as interns, but then force them to perform the jobs of regular workers, in order to avoid paying proper wages--causing the interns to miss out on the educational experience that should be the focus of experience.

In the wage and hour lawsuit, Xuedan Wang, a 2010 college graduate, interned at the magazine from August 2011 until December 2011, working around 40 hours a week, but often up to 55 hours. Wang claims that although her degree was in strategic communications, she was given the assignment to coordinate the retrieving and delivering of samples between the fashion magazine, showrooms and vendors, and gave other unpaid interns the responsibility of helping to facilitate the drop-offs and pickups. Wang claims to have also helped maintain the sample records and process requests for corporate expense report reimbursements.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has been focusing on unpaid internships over the past few years, and investigating employers who take advantage of interns--many of whom have a difficult time finding paid jobs. According to the DOL, there are not many options for a for-profit employer to offer an unpaid internship--and employers must comply with the six federal legal criteria in order to achieve an unpaid internship status.

The lawsuit reportedly looks to the DOL's unpaid internship criteria, which states that the internships are only legal if they exist as an educational training program--where interns do not take over the responsibilities of actual employees, and the employer receives no immediate and clear advantage from their work.

Wang claims in her lawsuit that by treating her as a regular employee, instead of an intern, she was denied important employee benefits, like wages, unemployment insurance, workman's compensation, and Social Security contributions. Wang is reportedly hoping to make this a class action lawsuit.

This is the second unpaid internship lawsuit that Vincent Howard and our Riverside employment attorney blog has reported on in the past few months. In September, Fox Searchlight Pictures was sued by two former interns who worked on the film "Black Swan"--for violating wage and hour laws during the making of the film, by allegedly taking advantage of the interns by forcing them to perform employment duties that should have been performed by paid employees.

In La Palma, Laguna Beach, Laguna Nigel, California, contact Vincent Howard at Howard Law, PC today.

Former Intern Sues Hearst Over Unpaid Work and Hopes to Create a Class Action, The New York Times, February 1, 2012

Related Web Resources:

California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR): The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, (DSLE)

U.S. Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Department of Labor (DOL): Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

Related Blog Posts:

Fox Searchlight Sued by "Black Swan" Unpaid Interns for Wage and Hour Violations , California Employment Lawyers Blog, October 18, 2011

DOL and IRS Combine Forces to Combat Employee Misclassification, California Employment Lawyers Blog, September 26, 2011

T. J. Maxx Retail Chain Sued For Employee Misclassification, California Employment Lawyers Blog, August 25, 2011

Employee Misclassification Leads to Nearly $1M in Back Pay for 30 Restaurant Workers, California Employment Lawyers Blog, August 24, 2011

DOL Forces Texas Company to Pay $433K in Back Wages For Employee Misclassification , California Employment Lawyers Blog, August 5, 2011

CA Drug Sales Reps Sue Novo Nordisk in Class Action Wage and Hour Lawsuit, California Employment Lawyers Blog, July 28, 2011

Federal Criteria Defining Legality of Unpaid Internships, California Employment Lawyers Blog, April 12, 2010

Labor Department Investigates Whether Unpaid Internships Violate Wage and Hour Laws, California Employment Lawyers Blog, April 7, 2010