Unpaid interns receive no income for their work, a fact that is readily apparent by their titles. However, most interns probably don’t realize they also receive no protection against employment discrimination. This is because interns are not employees by virtue of their lack of wages. This circular and unfair logic has left the most vulnerable workers with limited legal recourse in Manhattan and elsewhere.
Lihuan Wang discovered this injustice when she accused her supervisor of sexual harassment. The facts of the case support a valid harassment claim, but Ms. Wang was never given the opportunity to present the evidence. She was denied the right to sue the company because of her intern status.
- According to CNN Money, Ms. Wang was an intern at Phoenix Satellite Television U.S. in 2009 when her supervisor, bureau chief Zhengzhu Liu, made sexual advances toward her.
- Mr. Liu invited Ms. Wang to his hotel room under the pretense of discussing her opportunities for fulltime employment. He then tried to kiss and fondle her. She rebuffed his advances and left the room.
- After the incident, Mr. Liu showed no further interest in hiring Ms. Wang as a fulltime employee.
The 22-year-old bravely took steps to exercise her rights and filed an EEOC claim, asserting violations of New York City’s Human Rights Law. In October 2013, a court ruled that unpaid interns are not employees and are therefore not entitled to file a lawsuit for employment discrimination. Fortunately, the ruling permits Ms. Wang to move forward with the retaliation claim against Phoenix Satellite Television for its failure to hire her. She may also have the right to sue under different federal laws.
It appears that Ms. Wang’s ordeal was not an isolated matter. Other members of the company’s staff have also accused Mr. Liu of harassment. Mr. Liu’s repeated offensive conduct highlights the need for legal protection for both interns and employees.
If you were sexually harassed during your internship, let a New York City sexual harassment attorney advise you on your options for relief. Our sexual harassment lawyers serve clients in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island and throughout the state of New York. We also represent employee’s sexual harassment cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania & Florida.
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