Judge rules army of unpaid media interns cannot form class-action suit

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, May 9, 2013 13:53 EDT
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A New York judge ruled Wednesday (PDF) that publishing giant Hearst’s army of unpaid interns cannot form a class-action lawsuit over claims that they did the work of paid employees.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer found that the plaintiff’s claims did not meet the standards for a class-action, mostly because Hearst never drew up a clear set of expectations for interns and instead had them working on a wide variety of tasks that varied between departments.

Because no two interns had the same experience, Baer ruled that the legal requirement of “commonality” was not present in the case, even though plaintiffs included some who worked for up to 11 hours a day carrying out the same tasks as paid staffers, which Hearst acknowledged.

Plaintiffs in the case also sought a summary judgement of their claims, which was denied. They came from Hearst properties like Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Redbook and others.

While the motion for judgement and hopes of a class-action appear dead, the individual lawsuits can proceed. Dates have not yet been set for any future hearings.

The ruling hinged upon the Supreme Court’s 2011 findings in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which alleged that Wal-Mart had engaged in widespread gender discrimination against more than 1.6 million female employees. The suit was rejected in a 5-4 decision that found the plaintiffs jobs did not have enough in common for their complaint to be taken up as a class-action.

The judge also cited a Supreme Court ruling handed down last month that rejected a class-action lawsuit against cable giant Comcast and set out more stringent criteria for determining commonality to certify a claim.

Photo: Shutterstock.com.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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