| NEW YORK, June 14
NEW YORK, June 14 When two former interns at the
New Yorker and W Magazine sued parent company Conde Nast
Publications on Thursday, legal experts said it could be the
first in a wave of lawsuits challenging companies who pay little
or nothing for student labor.
The lawsuit comes just two days after a judge found that Fox
Searchlight Pictures violated labor laws when it used unpaid
interns for production tasks on "Black Swan," the 2010 film
starring Natalie Portman.
Employment lawyers said that decision and similar lawsuits
that are likely to follow would force employers to reconsider
using unpaid or underpaid interns, first in "glamour" industries
such as movies and publishing, where the practice has become
standard, and then in industries that have implemented similar
policies to reduce labor costs in a flagging economy.
"This trend is probably going to expand beyond media
companies and beyond New York," said Laura O'Donnell, a lawyer
at Haynes & Boone in San Antonio who represents management in
labor disputes. "I think employers in all industries across the
country need to take note."
Thursday's lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the
Southern District of New York, which also had issued the
decision on Tuesday against News Corp's Fox
Lauren Ballinger, an intern at W Magazine for several months
in 2009, and Matthew Leib, who had internships at the New Yorker
in 2009 and 2010, said Conde Nast violated federal labor laws.
Ballinger received $12 a day to organize accessories, run
personal errands for editors and make deliveries to vendors.
Leib got a flat rate of $300 to $500 for each three- to
four-month internship, which included reviewing submissions to
the New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" section, responding to
emails sent to the magazine, proofreading and opening mail.
The lawsuit, which seeks a class action on behalf of all
affected Conde Nast workers, said the Fair Labor Standards Act
required the company to pay an hourly minimum wage.
Law firm Outten & Golden, which brought both the Conde Nast
and the Fox Searchlight lawsuits, is identifying individuals who
held unpaid internships during the past six years and is
reviewing the conditions of their employment for possible
The firm is also handling a lawsuit against Hearst Corp by
former Harper's Bazaar magazine intern Xuedan Wang. In that
case, Judge Harold Baer, also in the Southern District of New
York, said Wang, who had sought class-action certification,
could not sue on behalf of other interns. The law firm is
appealing the ruling, and Wang can still bring suit as an
PBS talk show host Charlie Rose agreed to settle a similar
class action brought by Outten & Golden late last year on behalf
of 190 unpaid interns who worked on his eponymous program
between March 2006 and October 2012.
"These young people are conscious of economic and class
issues," Juno Turner, a lawyer at Outten & Golden, said of the
Conde Nast lawsuit. "They see that people who are able to do
these internships are people of means, whose families are able
to support them while they work for little or no pay.
"They're standing up and saying: 'I've had enough of this.'"
A Conde Nast representative said the company did not comment
on pending litigation.
The U.S. Labor Department has developed a six-pronged test
based on a decades-old Supreme Court case related to railroad
company trainees to determine whether interns at for-profit
companies must be paid. It takes into account factors that
include the educational value of the experience and whether
interns displace regular workers.
"The real key to the test is that the internship has to be
for the benefit of the intern as opposed to the employer,"
Although unpaid internships are difficult to track, their
prevalence is apparent in an annual survey of more than 30,000
students conducted by the National Association of Colleges and
Employers (NACE). For the past three years, nearly half of all
interns surveyed have reported working without pay.
The 2013 Student Survey found that while paid internships
increased the likelihood of receiving a permanent job offer,
unpaid interns fared only slightly better than students who did
no internship at all. The median starting salary for a newly
minted graduate with paid internship experience is $51,930, but
only $35,721 for those who have completed an unpaid internship,
the survey said.
That pattern was consistent across all academic majors, NACE
researcher Edwin Koc said.
Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, a
nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, said would-be
interns should think twice about agreeing to work without pay,
even to get a foot in the door.
"You signal to employers that you aren't worth that much if
you're willing to work for nothing," Eisenbrey said.
The case is: Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib v. Advance
Magazine Publishers Inc, d/b/a Conde Nast Publications, U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York, No.