How’s this for a broken thread?
A lawsuit filed Wednesday in New York’s southern district claims that the famed fashion designer Norma Kamali violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York State labor laws by requiring her apprentice Erica van Rabenswaay to work full time without compensation.
Kamali, a onetime designer for Farrah Fawcett who created the famous red swimsuit worn by the feather-haired beauty in an iconic 1976 poster, “insisted” that van Rabenswaay forgo compensation for three months, according to the lawsuit. After that period, she began compensating van Rabenswaay, only to terminate her employment less than a month later and seek out another apprentice to perform the same tasks, the lawsuit states.
Kamali didn't return a request for comment.
The lawsuit was filed by Maurice Pianko, a New York attorney who specializes in labor disputes, and Jesse Strauss of Strauss Law PLLC, a class action and commercial litigation firm. Pianko is the founder of Intern Justice, a service that files lawsuits on behalf of unpaid interns who believe they are due compensation. While unpaid internships are technically legal, the FLSA states that employers may derive “no immediate advantage” from tasks performed by interns.
The lawsuit against Kamali -- which names Kamali as well as her companies Norma Kamali Design Corp., Norma Kamali Inc. and Norma Kamali Wellness LLC -- claims that Kamali was the primary beneficiary of van Rabenswaay’s apprenticeship. The suit also claims that van Rabenswaay performed the same tasks as paid employees but was compensated with only a MetroCard to get her to and from work.
“Unpaid internships are exploitive, unethical and illegal,” Pianko said in a statement. “Young people think they are getting a toehold in their chosen profession. In fact, many employers are just looking for free labor. Our wage and hour laws are designed to require a fair wage for a fair day’s work, and that applies to all employees, including interns.”
The lawsuit was the first to be filed as part of Intern Justice’s “Fair Wage Summer” project, through Pianko and Strauss plan to file additional lawsuits in the coming months. Earlier this month, the burgeoning unpaid internship movement hit a stumbling block when U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer denied class certification to a group of former unpaid interns for Hearst Corp. The ruling essentially means the interns will have to sue Hearst individually. In an email to IBTimes, Pianko called said the high-profile decision was “no doubt a setback” for the unpaid internship cause, but he added that he still plans to continue filing more cases.
Van Rabenswaay is seeking double back wages along with attorney’s fees and costs. According to Pianko, Kamali could have avoided the lawsuit by paying van Rabenswaay the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, or $290 per week, based on a 40-hour week.
Read the full complaint below.