The class action lawsuit filed against Warner Music by former unpaid interns has taken another big step forward after a judge gave the green light for class action notices to be sent to more than 3,000 people who could be covered by the suit. The suit, one of many that followed a trail-blazing MTV case filed last year, is the latest battle in what’s become something of a cause célèbre for supporters of workers’ rights: unpaid internship lawsuits. Internships – a staple of the American working world for so long – are coming under increasing scrutiny to ensure they comply with the requirements set by Department of Labor. In the Warner Music suit, plaintiff Kyle Grant alleges he – and thousands of others – performed regular office tasks without pay or training, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The former interns reportedly claim they never received academic credit for at least part of their internships, and routinely worked without supervision or training.
As part of the suit, plaintiffs’ lawyers have been seeking certification of a class made up of all current and former Warner Music interns. The company, in response, has argued that potential plaintiffs lack commonality (meaning that their situations aren’t similar enough to justify the collective action) since some worked as trainees and others worked as interns. Last week, Judge Paul Gardephe certified the proposed class and notices will now be sent out to the thousands of individuals who may be covered by the suit. While the judge said the plaintiffs had submitted evidence to support their claims, he was quick to make it clear that his decision was not a reflection of the claims’ validity:
“The evidence offered by Plaintiffs is sufficient to meet the ‘low’ standard of proof for court-authorized notice. The court is not permitted to pass on the merits of plaintiffs' claims at this stage of the litigation.”
While the company also argued against certification on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims only referred to Warner’s offices in New York, and not nationwide, Judge Gardephe ruled that the plaintiffs had shown the treatment they received was demonstrative of interns across the United States.
The suit was first filed in June 2013 and this certification comes after Grant and three opt-in plaintiffs submitted declarations about their time working for Warner. The former interns reportedly claim they never received academic credit for at least part of their internships, and routinely worked without supervision or training.
The judge’s statement about “low standards” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but certification is good news for Kyle Grant – and other Warner interns nationwide, many of whom may now receive notice about this case. Because this is an “opt-in” case, interns will have to affirmatively elect to join the lawsuit. Meanwhile, multiple unpaid internship cases are working their way through courts across the country, though it still remains to be seen whether companies or interns will come out on top in the long run.