New York court declares unpaid interns can't file sexual harassment charges against employers
Caucasian Mid-Adult Man Sexually Harassing Woman Sitting At Computer (Shutterstock)

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed Lihuan Wang's sexual harassment suit against Phoenix Satellite Television today because, it said, she was not a compensated employee.

Wang was two weeks into her internship at the Chinese-language media company when, she alleges, her supervisor and bureau chief, Liu Zhengzhu, asked her to accompany him to his hotel room after a business lunch so he could drop off some things and talk about her performance. Once in the hotel room, according to the complaint, he started to strip and threw his arms around her while saying "Why are you so beautiful? Why?"

She further alleges that he then tried to kiss her, and squeezed her buttocks, at which point Wang left the room. When she later asked about her performance, the complaint asserts that Zhengzhu invited her to join him on a trip to Atlantic City.

The court found that because Wang was an unpaid intern, she could not bring a claim against Phoenix Satellite Television under the New York City Human Rights Law. Unpaid interns aren't covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so they have to depend on local laws to protect them. In this case, no such laws exist.

The court chided the New York City Council, saying that it is has had multiple opportunities to fix this loophole, but has declined to do so.

Wang is still suing for failure to hire, but according to a lawyer who spoke to Bloomberg Businessweek, "Phoenix denies that Wang ever applied for a position, that anyone was ever hired for a reporter position in New York since Wang’s internship ended, and that Phoenix engaged in any discriminatory activity."

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