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Illegal Unpaid Internships Result in Class Action Lawsuits

In recent cases, gaining extensive work experience through internships is becoming illegal. Some interns are now filing class action lawsuits. Other’s remain uninformed and have taken no action. However, one thing is clear, interns who work for private companies need the facts on legal and illegal internships, or they risk being taken advantage of.

Interns File Class Action Lawsuits

In two recent high profile cases, one involving a well-known fashion industry publication, the other a Hollywood movie studio production company, it is highlighted how easy it is for interns to be taken advantage of. Both cases are examples for how interns are seeking experience to work at prestigious private companies, and remain unpaid.

As it was explained in a recent post on the California Employment Lawyers Blog, a previous intern for Harper’s Bazaar magazine filed a lawsuit against Hearst Corporation as well as the magazine. According to Howard Law, P.C., the intern claims that she worked full-time hours without compensation.

In the other recent case, two interns are filing a class-action lawsuit against 20th Century Fox. The interns were working for Black Swan, an award winning film that grossed more than $300 million. According to an article in NPR, the two interns are suing the company to gain back money for the “wasted” hours they worked.

Video Asks Students: Is Your Dream Unpaid Internship Illegal?

U.S. Department of Labor – Fair Labor Standards Act:
“The Interns Test”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, there are six criteria that must pass in order for an internship to be unpaid. First, the internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training, which would be given, in an educational environment.

Second, the internship experience is for the benefit of the intern. Third, the intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff. Fourth, the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; an on occasion its operations may be actually impeded. Fifth, the intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

Lastly, the employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Prospective Interns Realizing Dream Internships Could be Illegal

Brooke Neuland, a sophomore journalism major from Iowa, has been searching for internships for the past three months. She’s been in hopes of finding the perfect opportunity for Summer 2012, but now her feelings are changing. Once she read the U.S. Department of Labor’s rules on internships, she was shocked to find that most of her potential internships could be illegal.

“I’ve just been really focused on trying to find a great internship for the summer so I can add it to my resume and expand my personal network,” Neuland said. “But now that I know I could be an illegal unpaid intern, I’m only searching for paid internship opportunities.”

Interns shouldn’t have to file class-action lawsuits against top private companies just to get paid a fair wage. In most cases, this wage is just an hourly minimum wage, enough to compensate for the hard work that interns put in. But after companies have abused their intern privileges, they are now being held accountable and paying the price.

Over 50 Percent of Chicago Internships Unpaid on

Recently, when doing a simple search on, it becomes clear that companies are not as eager to pay their interns. For the city of Chicago, 350 unpaid internships came up in the search results. When searching for paid internships, only 145 appeared, less than half of the unpaid results.  This shows the lack of initiative from companies to pay their interns. Most companies could argue they don’t have excess money to be paying their college interns. This is understandable, but is also close-minded. There are other ways around using revenue for compensation.

An example of a company using a different method for paying interns is Internet WebPages Newspaper Internship Fund. IWN Internship Fund uses crowdfunding to pay and hire deserving college students. As defined by the Macmillan Dictionary, crowdfunding is the use of the web or another online tool to get a group of people to finance a particular project. The students chosen for the internships must meet a certain list of criteria, such as maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA. Most positions are part-time and get paid on average $1,500 for the summer.

IWN Internship Fund: Rewarding qualified students with experience that pays (sm)

Crowdfunding is being used by various websites to fund ideas and projects, but not funding interns. IWN Internship Fund is using innovative ideas to find ways to guarantee interns get paid what they deserve. Ideas such as this, is exactly what is necessary for the future of internships across the country. Otherwise, more class-action lawsuits may follow.

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