New York, NY– If you’re an intern, you already know that you aren’t going to get paid, but did you know that you aren’t even given protection from harassment? A judge in New York recently confirmed that unpaid interns don’t have the same rights as other individuals in the workplaces since they are not considered employees.
Lihuan Wang, an unpaid broadcasting intern at Phoenix Satellite Television U.S., filed a sexual harassment suit in Phoenix in January of this year. She alleges that after she was transferred to the Chinese broadcasting company’s New York office, her boss there began to sexually harass her.
Wang’ suit states that her supervisor and bureau chief Liu Zhengzhou invited her and other employees to lunch. Bloomberg Business Week says that Lui asked Wang to stay after the other employees left to discuss her performance and then asked her to accompany him to his hotel on the pretense that he had to drop off some things.
Once they arrived at the hotel room, Lui removed his jacket, untied his tie, and then tried to embrace Wang. He asked her “Why are you so beautiful?” and Wang’s lawsuit states that he held her from for about five seconds, tried to kiss her and touched her buttocks.
Wang’s complaint said she pushed him away and left the room. Later, when she inquired about job opportunities, Zhengzhu asked her to accompany him to Atlantic City.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Wang could not file a formal sexual harassment suit since she was not employed with company. The court asserted that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect unpaid interns since they receive no remunerations such as health benefits or retirement pay from the company they work with.
There are some states that have laws on the books to protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment and discrimination, but New York is not one of them. Oregon and the D.C. have recently offered legal protections to interns.
Wang is pursuing Lui for failure to hire, alleging that she was denied a job because she refused to submit to his advances. Lui, of course, denies this, saying that Wang never applied for a permanent position, Bloomberg.
Either it’s time to change the laws or pay interns so they will be afforded the same federal protections as other employees. Just because they aren’t receiving a paycheck doesn’t mean they should have to endure any type of workplace harassment or discrimination. Interns, though not paid, shouldn’t have to work in a hostile environment.
Changing federal laws, however, would prove to be nearly impossible especially considering the deeply partisan atmosphere in Washington D.C. so it may be up to the states to actually do something that will protect interns from workplace abuses.
If you have the fortune of living in a state that offers workplace protections, a sexual harassment attorney can help you seek compensation for lost wages and emotional distress.