Unpaid internship lawsuits are big news this year.
In 2013 we saw huge changes to the assumptions made by employers about what they could expect from unpaid interns. The status quo has become the status no as more and more interns seek compensation for the work they do, claiming they’re treated as employees without being paid and that internships commonly fail to meet the Department of Labor’s requirements. As the number of suits grew, Propublica compiled a table of intern lawsuits – and even this doesn’t reflect the scale of the problem (See Unpaid Internship Lawsuits Are The new Black, Unpaid Internship Lawsuits Update, and our related post on intern rights, Interns Not Protected From Harassment, Judges Rule).
In fact, she recalls sometimes working longer hours than the paid employees.
On January 22, a former intern for MTV, who accuses the company of failing to pay him for months of work, urged a New York federal judge to certify a nationwide class that would encompass thousands of current and former interns. Casey Ojeda claims that MTV Networks Enterprises Inc. broke the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York State labor laws when they failed to compensate him for working as an unpaid intern between September 2011 and January 2012. Ojeda’s complaint lists MTV Networks Enterprises Inc., MTV Networks Music Production Inc. and their parent company Viacom Inc. as defendants.
In many unpaid intern lawsuits, the problem isn’t that the position was unpaid per se, but that the work actually carried out was equivalent to that of a paid employee, and that the required training – designed to benefit the intern in lieu of financial compensation – was never received. Ojeda claims that he, along with potentially thousands of other MTV interns, was wrongly classified as exempt from minimum-wage laws (a common misclassification - see here) and is owed payment for the time he worked. Friday’s memorandum seeks to certify a class of all those who participated in the internship programs at MTV station offices in New York, Arkansas, California, and elsewhere, and would be the most efficient way of dealing with the case, Ojeda claims.
According to the memorandum, the proposed class would be:
“All current and former interns of Viacom Inc., MTV Networks Music Production Inc., and/or MTV Networks Enterprises Inc., engaged in an internship program from August 13, 2007 through the present. Corporate officers, shareholders, directors, and administrative employees are not part of the defined collective.”
Ojeda’s lawyers have also submitted sworn testimony from opt-in plaintiff Nicole Rosinsky, a former human resources intern at MTV, who testified that she was not paid for performing tasks similar or identical to those of full-time employees. These tasks reportedly included working eight-hour shifts, four days a week. “In fact, she recalls sometimes working longer hours than the paid employees,” the memorandum reports. Is it fair that she wasn’t paid? It seems unlikely.
In many ways, this case is the latest in a long line of similar lawsuits that pit employers against unpaid interns, with both sides arguing over the FLSA and the Department of Labor’s requirements. It’s hard to see how MTV will be able to successfully argue their side, though – tasks carried out by interns are routinely the most mundane, while simultaneously being vital to effectively running a company’s offices. The time of interns being little more than lackeys is coming to an end, and every lawsuit seeking to assert the legal rights of workers is a step in the right direction.