The struggle in the courts between interns and businesses continues. While this blog has discussed certain cases of interns disputing the legality of their status as unpaid interns at magazines (such as the case against Harper’s Bazaar) and film studios (such as Fox Searchlight Pictures), the latest case brought to court is on behalf of interns who were paid for their work, but were paid at a rate below minimum wage.
In this case, two former interns are suing Conde Nast, alleging that they were paid less than one dollar for each hour that they worked at W Magazine and The New Yorker, both of which are owned by Conde Nast. The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan and alleges that Matthew Leib, who worked as an intern at the New Yorker in the summers of 2009 and 2010, was paid between $300 and $500 total for each summer that he worked. He alleges that, as an intern, his duties included reviewing pieces for submission to the “Shouts and Murmurs” section of the magazine as well as to proofread and edit articles for the “Talk of the Town” section.
Additionally, Mr. Leib, as a cartoonist, allegedly helped to maintain the online cartoon database, performed research in the cartoon archives, and coordinated the work of cartoon artists. He claims to have worked three days a week from 10am until 5:30pm. Assuming a one-hour break for lunch, that makes it a 6.5-hour day, and a 19.5-hour week. Since most internships last about ten weeks, we can assume that Mr. Leib worked approximately 195 hours each summer at The New Yorker. If he were paid $500 for the entire summer (which is the maximum total alleged by the lawsuit) that means he only earned about $2.56 for each hour that he worked, which is well below minimum wage.
Lauren Ballinger, the second named plaintiff in the lawsuit, worked as an intern in W Magazine’s accessories department in 2009. She graduated from The American University of Paris and said she saved one credit before graduating to use towards an internship at W Magazine. Ms. Ballinger alleges that she was paid $12 per day during her internship at W Magazine. She alleges that she worked from eight or nine in the morning until eight to ten each night, packing, organizing, and delivering accessories to editors. She alleges that she later worked 10-hour days, three days a week, in W Magazine’s fine jewelry department.
For both internships, Ms. Ballinger alleges that she was trained only by other interns. Even one of the editors at W Magazine marveled at how poor their working conditions were, comparing the job to that of Anne Hathaway’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada”. Ms. Ballinger says that her job was worse that that “because we don’t get makeovers in the end”
After all that hard work that Ms. Ballinger put in at W Magazine for a pittance, the editors of the magazine did not give her a recommendation to her university, which she needed in order to receive her course credit. Ms. Ballinger gave that as the reason for deciding to get involved in the class action lawsuit against Conde Nast.