As scores of California students and young workers prepare to participate in unpaid internship programs throughout the state, they may want to reconsider their employment status based on a recent ruling. The decision, handed down in New York, prohibits unpaid interns from suing for sexual harassment in the workplace. The reason: Unpaid interns are not considered employees because they do not receive a paycheck.
This decision in New York courts is not the first of its kind. Most recently, an unpaid intern in Washington, D.C., was prohibited from filing a harassment suit after bringing allegations in August. So far, few jurisdictions have made moves to protect unpaid interns, although California’s neighboring Oregon passed a measure this summer that enables those workers to sue for compensation.
In the New York case, the 26-year-old woman claims that she was subject to inappropriate touching and advances from her supervisor, who also made explicit sexual comments. The woman was interning for Phoenix Satellite Television, a Chinese-language media company that has an office in New York. The woman claims that she was assaulted when her boss asked her to come with him to his hotel so he could drop off items after they went to a work luncheon. The man threw his arms around her, attempted to kiss her and groped her.
That young woman’s assertion are supported by other female workers, who acknowledged that some level of tolerance for harassment was necessary for success at the company. Now, even though the young woman cannot file for sexual harassment, she is seeking financial compensation because the company failed to hire her. She says that this employment decision was made only because she refused her boss’s advances, not because of her performance.
Interns who have been mistreated in the workplace may not be able to sue for sexual harassment, but they do have other legal options. Unpaid interns who believe they have been harassed can consult qualified employment attorneys to help them learn more about their rights in California court.
www.buzzfeed.com, “Judge rules unpaid intern cannot bring sexual harassment claim since she’s not a paid employee” Rachel Zarrell, Oct. 08, 2013