Who sues? Unpaid interns should

In the March 11, 2012 Sunday Times Magazine, Ariel Kaminer covers an entirely new pocket of potential plaintiffs, in The Ethicist column: unpaid interns.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay everyone — not just official employees, but anyone whom they “suffer or permit to work.” … 

Attorneys at the New York firm Outten & Golden have brought lawsuits against the Hearst Corporation and Fox Searchlight Pictures over unpaid internships at those companies. Elizabeth Wagoner worked on both cases …

… if you have your heart set on a career in an intern-dependent field, it would be unreasonable to expect you to abandon that hope just because the people currently in charge refuse to do what’s right. Wagoner suggests taking the internship and filing a lawsuit, but few are capable of undertaking that effort. Better, I think, is her suggestion to take the internship and then call the Labor Department — something you or your colleagues can do confidentially. Tell them the position is not legal.

Oh, do I love this cheerleading! Wagoner and Kaminer are encouraging a new (and presumably young) class of aggressive, righteous plaintiffs, for whom the appeal of a lawsuit is less financial than ethical. Their lawsuits will add to the case law supporting and strengthening the Fair Labor Standards Act.

(And maybe they’ll get some back wages, too. Long long after the lawsuit is filed.)



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