For years, unpaid interns have not met the legal requirements to be able to file sexual harassment lawsuits in New York. This is because the very specific wording of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York City Human Rights Law requires and individual to be classified as an employee in order to do so. Unpaid interns do not receive direct income from their positions so, even though they are technically working for a company, they are not employees.
A recent survey found that a little over 1/3 (36%) of all companies still use unpaid interns for free labor and as a pre-qualified pool of individuals, should paid positions come open within the company. Some big names like Fox Searchlight and Condé Nast are on that list. For many individuals, an unpaid internship is a valuable way to earn experience in their chosen field and may open doors to future employment.
Smaller companies like Phoenix Satellite Television U.S. also use unpaid interns and that is bad news for one such individual. A graduate from Syracuse University recently tried to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against Phoenix Satellite Television. However, a New York district court ruling derailed that suit before it even got off to a good start. As stated above, under New York law, an individual must receive wages in order to be considered a true employee.
But that might soon change. The Wall Street Journal reports that newly proposed legislation may make filing sexual harassment lawsuits in New York a lot easier for unpaid interns. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Liz Krueger from Manhattan, would give unpaid interns the same statutory protection against sexual harassment as actual employees currently enjoy. The bill is modeled after a similar law in Oregon (the only state to have such legislation on the books) and would also add "whistleblower protection."
If your or a loved one has suffered sexual harassment as an employee in the workplace, consult an experienced New York City sexual harassment attorney. You have the right to compensation for your emotional stress and pain and suffering. Call the Law Offices of Nussin S. Fogel for a free consultation at (800) 734-9338 or (212) 385-1122 to learn your rights.