In another of what appears to be a potential series of internship-related wage and hour violation lawsuits, a former intern is suing the Hearst Corporation, claiming that her unpaid internship violated the Department of Labor’s regulations.
As we previously mentioned in our post on the Black Swan intern lawsuit, employers who utilize unpaid interns need to be sure that their internship programs comport with DOL regulations. Unpaid internships abound in certain industries and often serve as a foot in the door. However, the fact that something has “always been done that way” will not save an unwary employer from a DOL investigation or a wage and hour lawsuit, if its internship program does not contain the required educational components, or otherwise fails to comply with the DOL regulations.
The intern who is suing Hearst worked for the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar. She claims to have “worked” between 40 and 55 hours per week over a 4 month period without being paid, and is being represented by the same law firm representing the plaintiffs in the Black Swan lawsuit. Once again, they are attempting to pursue a class action suit.
Interestingly, at the time of the publication of this blog post, Hearst’s internship website expressly indicates that internships are for current students and requires that applicants demonstrate the ability to receive academic credit. Compliance with such a rule could potentially shield an employer from this sort of litigation, but (presuming this requirement was in place previously) it does not seem to have deterred the claimant here.
The take-away? Employers should review their internship programs against the DOL regulations to ensure compliance, lest they be the next litigation target.