WTF? Federal Court Judge Rules Unpaid Interns Can’t Sue For Sexual Harassment

October 10, 2013  |  

Unpaid internships have become the norm for resume building. They’re important to getting a foot in the door and if one wants to change their career path. Unfortunately, because an unpaid internship does not benefit wages, it also means there is a lack of protection that would usually come with full-time employment.

Lihuan Wang found that out when her supervisor at Phoenix Satellite Television’s New York Bureau reportedly grabbed her buttocks and tried to kiss her during her unpaid internship in 2010. When she tried to sue the company for sexual harassment, a Manhattan Federal Court Judge Kevin Castel ruled only paid workers are covered by New York City’s human rights law. The Daily News reports:

“Protection of employees does not extend to unpaid interns,” Castel said. He also stated the City Council has amended the New York City Human Rights Law several times in recent years to cover more situations but has failed to shield interns.

Wang’s lawyer, Lynne Bernabei, believes the law is too restrictive and does not cover the changes being made in the employment sphere. New York City’s councilwoman Gale Brewer has made it her duty to present legislation to close the loophole that bars interns who do not receive benefits from redress, especially in compromising situations. The only state that has made such revisions to the law is Oregon. Washington D.C. has made changes as well. Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio responded to Wang’s case, saying, “No one should ever be denied protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. Period.”

Shaken up by the incident, Wang relocated to her homeland of China after Phoenix did not hire her for a paid position when she declined her boss, Zhengzhu Liu’s, advances. Since Wang’s claim went to court, another woman has came forth with a harassment claim. Liu has since been fired from Phoenix.

What do you think about unpaid interns lacking protection from sexual harassment?

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