Unpaid internships pose a litigation risk for employers

Disgruntled former interns have sued Charlie Rose, Hearst Corp. and Fox Searchlight

Read our online exclusive story about a case concerning externships.

As summer approaches, corporations and non-profits around the country are preparing to welcome a new crop of interns. But some companies won’t be greeting any eager young workers this year, and others will scale down their internship programs in order to pay those who do come onboard at minimum wage. That’s because a spate of well-publicized lawsuits has changed what was once viewed as a win-win—free help for employers and resumé-building experience for interns—into yet another litigation risk.

In February, a former unpaid intern sued Elite Model Management, a leading New York modeling agency, seeking class certification and at least $50 million in unpaid wages, overtime and benefits. “Elite has for years boosted its bottom line on the backs of young interns who, while anxious to build their resumes, are too afraid to ask for compensation,” the complaint alleged.

Taking a different tack, a former Hamilton College “intern/assistant football coach” who received a stipend for his work filed suit in December 2012, saying the $1,000 monthly stipend amounted to less than $3 per hour during the football season when he worked more than 100 hours per week. He alleged that even during the offseason, his compensation fell below the minimum wage.

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Mary Swanton

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