The Fight to Protect Unpaid Interns in NYC Against Sexual Harassment

In October 2013, Lihuan Wang, an unpaid intern at Phoenix Satellite Television’s New York office, was denied compensation for being sexually harassed at work. She alleged her supervisor forcibly kissed and touched her, but the courts dismissed her case on the grounds that unpaid interns aren’t considered “employees” under New York City Human Rights Law. The harassment took place in 2009, when Wang was just 22 years old and a student at Syracuse University.

But new legislation closes this loophole, and prevent future injustices. Following a legislative hearing last week, the New York City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to pass an amendment extending sexual harassment and civil rights protections to unpaid interns.

City Councilman James Vacca, the prime sponsor of the legislation, said he started working on it with Manhattan Borough President (and then council member) Gale Brewer after learning about another case.

“We think it’s a gigantic step forward,” City Councilman James Vacca, the prime sponsor of the bill, told Newsweek. “I think it fills a hole that was as big as a Mack truck. The Wang decision really was an awakening for many of us.”

Christina Isnardi is an undergrad at NYU who has become an advocate for interns.

“I think I’ve had a dozen interns who’ve came up to me saying that they have had experience with either unwanted sexual advances or discrimination against them based on their race or sexual orientation,” said Isnardi.

Lawyers who spoke at the hearing warned council members their definition of “intern” needs to be broader so they don’t exclude anyone. Some critics are arguing the definition of an intern is too narrow because it requires an internship to conform to Labor Department guidelines to be covered,

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone in the workplace. A New York City attorney can help you if you have been harassed or assaulted at your job.

The Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC handles a multitude of cases that involve sexual harassment in New York City. For further information, please feel free to call us at 212-587-0760 or toll-free at 1-877-4NYLAWS or email at dslaws@msn.com.

 

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