A former unpaid intern for Harper's Bazaar has filed a lawsuit contending that the magazine's parent company illegally employed her full time without providing any compensation.
Unpaid internships have proliferated to the point that they are prerequisite to employment in some competitive industries, and a debate has emerged about the legality of extracting free labor from young people. Xuedan Wang said in a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan that her employers at Harper's violated labor laws by not paying her for full time work.
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, the lawsuit read, according to the New York Times.
The lawsuit seeks to make the case a class action lawsuit on behalf of other unpaid interns employed by Hearst Magazines. A fact sheet released by the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division laid out the conditions under which an employer is not required by the Fair Labor Standards Act to pay an intern. They include the intern gaining an educational experience and not displacing other employees.
Wang said she was essentially an employee, working long weeks, managing other interns and coordinating essential activities like the transportation of fashion samples.
Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work, Adam Klein, one of Wang's lawyers, told the New York Times. The practice of classifying employees as 'interns' to avoid paying wages runs afoul of federal and state wage and hour laws.