Internships: Are They A Learning Experience or Just Free Labor?

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law on September 5th, 2013

Former intern seeks class action lawsuit

A former intern is seeking a class-action lawsuit against Donna Karan International over his unpaid internship at the company in 2009.

Vallentino Smith claims that he clocked in 16 hours a week without pay when he was an undergraduate student working at the company’s Seventh Avenue headquarters.

Smith’s lawyer, Lloyd Ambinder, said his client, like a lot of undergraduates trying to build up their resumes, went for an internship in a glamorous industry where jobs are harder to get. “They took advantage of him. You don’t see this in waste management or funeral homes.”

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, an internship must meet certain criteria in order to be classified as unpaid without violating the law. One such example is that the internship must be “for the benefit of the intern” and be “similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.”

“Get the coffee…”

“I was told it would be a great learning experience,” Smith said of the 16 hours a week that he logged. However, instead of learning about marketing, he said all he did was get coffee and organize fashion closets.

Smith who now has a master’s degree from Long Island University, is seeking retroactive pay for the hours he worked (at a minimum wage rate of $7.15 per hour) and would like his case to be classified as a class-action lawsuit so he can represent at least 100 other unpaid Donna Karan interns. Ambinder said Karan took on at least two-dozen unpaid interns during the same spring semester that Smith worked there.

Smith’s accusations are the latest in a group of unpaid internship lawsuits questioning companies that take on unpaid interns. Legal experts have predicted that the trend in these unpaid internship lawsuits is likely to spread and that employers across industries should “take note.”

Let's Get Started
Schedule a Free Consultation

1+10 =

I have read and understand the disclaimer

Call Us (323) 934-1234

Office Location
Follow Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation on Twitter Connect with Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation on Facebook. Linked In Profile for Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation YouTube
We provide legal services & no cost consultations to individuals in the following languages, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese