Last week news broke that a former intern for the magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, is suing Hearst in the hopes to create a class action. According to the former intern, the parent company of Harper’s Bazaar, Hearst broke federal wage laws by refusing to pay her even though she often worked full-time during her internship from August 2011 to December 2011. She graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in strategic communications in 2010.
The lawsuit states, “Employers’ failure to compensate interns for their work, and the prevalence of the practice nationwide, curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment.”
I have to say I agree with the charges. Is it really a coincidence that there are thousands of internship opportunities, but only a handful of entry-level jobs? It seems as though many organizations are taking advantage of the unpaid internship concept to get free labor that benefits the company. According to federal and state laws, an internship must only benefit the intern. Unfortunately, it seems as though the unpaid internship is now equivalent to the modern day internship minus the pay; especially in the above case where the former intern sometimes worked as much as 55 hours per week.
But does she have a case she can win? Some say it may be difficult because she stayed for the full term of the internship. Also, from my own experience Hearst clearly spells out the terms of the internships, including no pay. On the other hand, just because she may have allowed the “treatment of an employee” to happen, doesn’t give Hearst the right to act on it. The law is the law.
However, this case now has industry professionals wondering about the future of internships. Even if she loses, some businesses may become fearful of offering unpaid internships, making it more difficult for young professionals to get hands on experience before entering the workforce. This lawsuit may result in a domino effect ultimately changing internship laws and guidelines. Only time will tell.
How do you feel about the case? Do you think the former intern is justified and has a shot at winning?