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Hearst lawyers email former unpaid interns seeking stories of “valued opportunities”

The publishing giant is facing a class-action lawsuit from unpaid interns seeking back wages

To counteract the angry unpaid interns who’ve had bad experiences (and are going to court because of it), the magazine giant Hearst Corp. is seeking the stories of interns “who valued the opportunities and experiences they received from their internships.”

That quote comes from an email that Hearst’s legal counsel sent to former interns of its fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, which someone then forwarded to New York magazine. The woman who began the class-action suit against Hearst, Xuedan Wang, was also an intern at Harper’s Bazaar.

The Hearst suit is just one of many brought by unpaid interns against their former employers. Interns who worked on the movie “Black Swan” filed a lawsuit in 2011, and talk show host Charlie Rose was hit with litigation in March.

Unpaid internships are technically legal, as long as the employer follows guidelines set by the Department of Labor, which provide that the internship must be an educational experience for the intern, and not provide any benefit to the company. These suits allege that the defendant employers did not follow these guidelines.

Hearst’s attempt to find satisfied former interns may be a successful strategy. There are two sides to the unpaid intern debate. On one hand, an internship (especially in the competitive magazine industry) can provide a jump start to someone’s career. On the other hand, the system perpetuates a cycle where low-income Americans have difficulty finding jobs in such industries because they can’t afford to work for free and get the same experience that those who can afford the internships do.

Read more about unpaid interns on InsideCounsel:

“Black Swan” intern suit may get bigger

Labor: When unpaid interns become unpaid employees

Labor: The perils of using unpaid interns

Slate looks at the social problems surrounding unpaid internships

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