Former Howard Stern Intern Sues Sirius XM Over Unpaid Internships

Link to Huffington Post Article by Dave Jamieson

A former intern for The Howard Stern Show has sued the radio personality’s broadcaster, Sirius XM Radio, claiming that the company’s unpaid internship program violates labor law.

In a complaint filed in federal court last week, Melissa Tierney says she interned at Stern’s show for five months in 2011, spending between 24 to 36 hours per week running errands, reviewing news clips and fetching food for on-air personalities and guests. She said she wasn’t paid at all for her time.

Tierney argues that Sirius XM cut its labor costs by wrongfully classifying her as exempt from minimum wage protections. Her lawsuit is a proposed class-action that, if given the green light by a judge, could cover other unpaid interns at the satellite radio provider stretching back to 2008.

Sirius XM “would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours” had the company not had unpaid interns like Tierney, the suit alleges. Tierney made her claims under federal and New York State minimum wage laws as well as a New York ordinance on wage theft.

Tierney and a Sirius XM spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. According to the Sirius XM website, its internships are unpaid and available only to enrolled college students who will receive credit.

Lawsuits over unpaid internships have become common in the New York media world. A former Harper’s Bazaar intern sued the Hearst Corporation in a high-profile class-action in 2012. The magazine group Conde Nast, owner of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, announced last year that it would shut down its internship program after it was sued over pay. The company recently settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.

The lawsuits have helped kick off a lively debate over the use of unpaid interns, a practice that many people argue closes the media and policy spheres off from those of lesser means. Students and recent college grads from upper- and middle-class families are far better equipped to spend several months in an expensive city like New York or Washington while not earning any money.

The question of whether or not individual programs violate the law has been left up to judges. The U.S. Labor Department has issued guidance to help employers determine whether or not their interns need to be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The cases largely hinge on who benefits more from the intern’s time — the intern or the company — and how much the intern can reasonably be expected to learn from the experience.

As HuffPost reported Monday, even the White House has come under fire for its unpaid internship program, which brings an estimated 300 students and recent grads to Washington each year. Government offices are exempt from the rules covering when an internship must be paid, making the White House’s program perfectly legal, although worker advocates say the White House should lead by example and start paying its interns.

Paid Internships Benefits Interns and Employers

Link to USNews Article By Lloyd Ambinder and LaDonna M. Lusher

Even before the onset of the 2008 recession, college students and recent grads eagerly, if not desperately, sought out unpaid internships hoping to gain the necessary experience to land a paid job. Unfortunately, rather than provide a structured educational environment for interns, many, if not most, employers treat interns like entry level employees without providing them any compensation. In the end, rather than acquiring critical experience helpful to starting their career, most often these unpaid interns end up doing menial work like cleaning the office refrigerator and running personal errands for their supervisors. All the while their colleges and universities continue to charge thousands of dollars in tuition for academic credit, while providing little or no oversight of the interns’ activities.

While it is not per se illegal for employers to provide unpaid internship programs, perhaps it is time to make such programs unlawful. Many unpaid internship programs do not come close to satisfying the U.S. Department of Labor’s six-factor compliance test that would render them legitimate. Complying with the test is likely to prove burdensome and inefficient for most employers, particularly since a basic tenet prohibits interns from performing work that would benefit the employer or would serve to displace another compensated employee.

A common sense balance would be to compensate interns in a work environment that provides on-the-job training, thereby benefitting the employer and the intern. Employers would be free to utilize interns as they see fit, and take advantage of their talents by having them perform substantive work instead of menial tasks. Employers could further assess the interns work performance and potential for full-time employment without being subject to oversight by the DOL.

Companies such as Viacom, Sony, Madison Square Garden, Donna Karan and Warner Music Group, all of whom are currently facing lawsuits brought by unpaid interns, could have avoided the expense of litigation and eliminated exposure to liability by simply paying their interns at least minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour under federal law). Those employers, some of whom allegedly required their unpaid interns to perform such tasks as getting coffee, making copies and picking up supervisors’ prescriptions, could have compensated their interns and directly benefited from the work and skill set the interns offered.

The interns would also benefit from mandatory paid internships because they would receive an actual wage for any variety of tasks they are required to perform. Studies show that, while nearly half of all graduating college students have performed some kind of internship, those fortunate enough to land a paid internship are more likely to gain a full-time job offer or higher starting salary than those who complete an unpaid internship. And those who perform an unpaid internship do not fare any better in finding paid employment than individuals who do not participate in any internship program at all. Offering at least minimum wage to these highly motivated and educated individuals would provide further incentive for them to work even harder to gain full-time employment.

The economy also benefits from paid internships, which generate millions of dollars in taxes and revenue to state and federal governments by requiring employers to pay minimum wages, overtime, payroll taxes, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. Paid internships also increase the number of paid entry-level employment positions, resulting in a decrease in the unemployment rate. Interns who are compensated also face a lesser financial burden than those who are forced to accept an unpaid internship and simultaneously work a paid position, or borrow money, simply to make ends meet. Mandatory paid internships would also generate competition amongst businesses competing for talented new recruits, and result in higher salaries for entry-level employees.

Finally, requiring employers to pay interns a minimum wage promotes the underlying remedial purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was enacted by Congress to protect workers from detrimental labor conditions and ensure payment for work performed. Conversely, encouraging employers to offer unpaid internships results in paid employees being replaced by unpaid interns, a reduction in the number of paid employment positions, and the elimination of fundamental workplace rights.

Colleges, Employers Rethink Internship Policies

Court Cases, Legislation Spur Some Companies to Drops Programs; Others Introduce Pay

After a string of high-profile lawsuits, schools have tightened policies for posting summer interns. Conde Nast and other firms have eliminated their internship programs entirely, making for even tougher competition for the positions that remain. Rachel Feintzeig reports on the News Hub.

The rules have changed for summer interns.

Since last year’s class vacated the lowest rungs of the corporate totem pole, a string of high-profile lawsuits by unpaid interns has worked its way through the courts, and legislatures have passed new protections, forcing both schools and employers to rethink their policies.

Some companies are moving toward paid programs. Others, like magazine publisher Condé Nast, are getting rid of internship programs altogether. The pressures could result in better pay and educational experiences for interns who win the coveted openings—but fiercer competition for the spots that remain.

In recent years, internships have become a near-necessity for college students trying to stand out in a brutal job market. And while some positions can provide valuable work experience and a glimpse into corporate life, critics maintain that the stints often amount to little more than unpaid labor.

A survey last year from the National Association of Colleges and Employers suggests unpaid internships don’t help students land full-time jobs. Alums of unpaid internships had full-time job offers at nearly the same rate as those who had no internships at all—about 37%, compared with 62% for those with paid internships.

School officials say they are increasingly looking to protect students from subpar internships. In February, Columbia University stopped giving students special credit on their transcripts for internships. New York University now requires employers to click a button certifying their internship measures up to Department of Labor guidelines before posting it on the school’s careers website.

And Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y., won’t post openings for unpaid positions from companies that they know also offer paid internships.

“It’s clear, in the last year, that colleges and universities have begun to individually and collectively come up with a voice on this,” says Mary McLean Evans, assistant vice president and executive director at Hamilton’s career center.

NYU was galvanized, in part, by a petition started last year by third-year student Christina Isnardi. The 20-year old felt “exploited” after spending the summer of 2012 as an unpaid intern on a film produced by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. She said she sometimes worked 16- or 17-hour days, taking breakfast orders for the cast and crew or watching equipment far from the film set.

A spokesman for Lions Gate declined to comment.

“There are hundreds of students who are sick of this,” Ms. Isnardi said. “We just feel as though our dreams are holding us hostage to this unfair, unethical labor practice.” Her petition gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

State and local governments also have taken up the cause, pushing in recent months for fresh intern protections.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation last week extending the city’s employment discrimination laws to interns, including those who are unpaid. A similar bill won unanimous support in the California State Assembly’s judiciary committee Tuesday. And Oregon last year passed a law extending discrimination benefits to all interns, while Washington, D.C., did so in 2009.

The developments are having mixed effects on employers.

Viacom Inc., facing a lawsuit brought by former MTV interns, made its hundreds of internship positions paid starting last summer, said spokesman Jeremy Zweig. Before, practices had varied, he said.

LeanIn.Org, the nonprofit group founded by Facebook Inc. FB -2.35% Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to further women’s career ambitions, came under fire in August after advertising for an unpaid intern; the incident prompted the organization to start a paid program, according to a spokeswoman.

A suit against Condé Nast, which involves former interns at W Magazine and the New Yorker, is currently in settlement talks, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyer. Condé Nast declined to comment on the suit or whether it had any plans to revive its internship program.

Jay Zweig, a Phoenix-based managing partner at Bryan Cave LLP, said he is aware of “dozens” of companies that have walked away from unpaid-internship programs, dropping students entirely rather than creating paid positions. (Arizona’s minimum wage is $7.90 an hour.)

Though there are fewer positions, Mr. Zweig says he thinks the internships that do exist are more substantive. “They’re not just being hired on as unpaid labor doing menial tasks,” he said.

At for-profit companies, 38.2% of interns didn’t get hourly wages, according to a 2012 survey of more than 11,000 students by research group Intern Bridge.

The Fair Labor Standards Act says that unpaid internships shouldn’t be for the direct advantage of the employer, should benefit the intern and be educational, and must not displace regular employees.

One spark for the firestorm over internships was a June ruling by a federal judge that 21st Century Fox Inc.’s Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws for not paying interns who worked on the film “Black Swan” doing the same tasks as paid employees. Until last year, 21st Century Fox shared a parent company with The Wall Street Journal.

In November, Fox was granted the opportunity to appeal the suit’s class certification and summary judgment, which went in the interns’ favor, to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where it is now pending.

A Fox representative declined to comment on the suit, citing the continuing litigation.

That lawsuit has opened the floodgates. Lloyd Ambinder, partner at New York-based Virginia & Ambinder LLP, which is representing unpaid interns in suits against Warner Music Group Corp., Viacom, Madison Square Garden Co. and other employers, says he has spoken to or met with at least 40 to 50 interns in the past month.

His office will have some help handling the caseload: Ms. Isnardi, the NYU student, landed a summer job there. It is a paid position.

Article on The Wall Street Journal By Rachel Feintzeig and Melissa Korn

Federal Judge in Manhattan Conditionally Certifies Class of Unpaid Interns at Viacom and MTV

New York NY – A New York federal judge granted conditional collective certification status Friday to former interns at Viacom and MTV who claim to have been denied proper wages as required by state and federal law.

In a decision published Friday, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman approved procedures to allow the participation of all current and former Viacom and MTV interns who worked for the media giants since April 4, 2011. Judge Furman granted plaintiff Casey O’Jeda’s request to allow potentially thousands of other interns to receive notice of and participate in the case based on allegations that Viacom and MTV violated federal and state labor laws for not paying their interns.

“We are glad that Judge Furman saw that the unpaid internship policies that existed for Casey [O’Jeda] existed throughout the company and throughout the country. This isn’t an isolated situation. We believe there was a uniform policy and practice that existed in this enormous company where workers were not paid any wages and were taken advantage of,” said Lloyd Ambinder, of Virginia & Ambinder, LLP, who along with Leeds Brown Law, P.C., represents O’Jeda and other interns in the matter.

O’Jeda, an unpaid intern during the Fall and Winter of 2011, originally filed the case in August 2013 in a wave of collective and class action cases that were brought pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law alleging that unpaid internships violated numerous state and federal laws. According to court filings, O’Jeda was paid no wages for nearly five months worth of work he performed in Viacom’s Mobile Development Department and attended orientation with hundreds of other interns who were similarly unpaid. The lawsuit and court filings allege that O’Jeda performed work nearly identical to that of other paid employees and received little to no educational benefit from the experience.

“There are lots of other interns that will step forward because of a decision like this,” said Jeffrey K. Brown of Leeds Brown Law, P.C. “The judge found that there were other interns who were similarly situated and might have their rights affected by this case as it moves forward. We hope that this encourages workers to stand up for their rights to receive a wage for the work that they perform and the benefits they provide to companies.”

Pursuant to federal law, Judge Furman’s decision allows the circulation of notice to other workers granting them the right to join the case as it moves forward. This is the third high profile internship case to reach this stage of litigation. The other two cases are presently on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the requirements for an unpaid internship to be deemed legal or illegal.

“We hope this decision allows other workers whether at MTV or Viacom to step forward and seek a remedy to this alleged wrong,” according to Ambinder. “Unpaid internships disadvantage hard working individuals who are trying to get ahead and gain experience.”

“This is a big victory for our clients obviously, but it is also a big victory for workers’ rights, especially for unpaid interns,” according to Brown. “Allowing this case to proceed as a collective action gives strength to these workers to stand up together and say that they were disadvantaged.”

The case pending in the Southern District of New York is captioned O’Jeda v. Viacom, Inc., MTV Networks Music, MTV Networks Enterprises, etc., 13-CV-5658(JMF).

NYC Council Considers Internship Bill

At a hearing held on March 17, 2014, the New York City Council considered testimony on a bill that would grant interns the same rights as other workers for discrimination and harassment under the NYCHRL (NYC Human Rights Law). Currently most of these laws do not expand to interns because they are not deemed “employees.”

Metro US covered the meeting here.

Forbes Magazine: Unpaid Intern Lawsuits May Reduce Job Opportunities

It was once commonplace to forego wages for an opportunity to gain work experience and connections. This may have been put to rest after an influx of unpaid internship lawsuits. Requiring interns to work without pay has been illegal since the minimum wage law was enacted in 1938, however, only recently have unpaid interns brought lawsuits. Between June and August of 2013, unpaid interns filed lawsuits against large corporations, among them: Condé Nast Publications, Warner Music Group, Atlantic Recording, Gawker Media, Fox Entertainment Group, NBC Universal, Viacom, Sony, Universal Music Group, Bad Boy Entertainment, and Donna Karan. Full article.
In June 2013, a New York Federal Court held that Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns were “employees” subject to the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Fox Searchlight was unable to show the Court that the company provided “something beyond on-the-job training that employees receive” to unpaid interns. The benefits provided by Fox Searchlight, such as “resume listings, job references, and an understanding of how a production office works,” were insufficient to render the employer exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirement for the interns. The Court determined that the unpaid interns added a value to the company and, in turn, took the place of a regularly paid employee. As such, the company must pay these interns minimum wage and overtime.
Leeds Brown Law PC dedicates a large portion of its practice to the area of employment discrimination. If you worked as an unpaid intern and you believe your rights have been violated, it is important to contact an experienced attorney immediately to preserve your rights. The firm has represented individuals throughout Long Island and the New York City area in matters of wage and hour law. For more information, contact Leeds Brown Law at 1-800-585-4658 for a free consultation or visit

NY Times: All Work, No Pay for Interns

The New York Times, once again, explores the implications of the culture of internships — both social, economic and legal. Check out this article from February 14, 2014.

The article goes on to quote a former intern: “In any given month, I’d say I apply to at least 300 full-time jobs,” she said, noting these attempts were to no avail. “On the other hand, I can apply to one or two internship positions a month and get a call back from both.”

The story continues: “Call them members of the permanent intern underclass: educated members of the millennial generation who are locked out of the traditional career ladder and are having to settle for two, three and sometimes more internships after graduating college, all with no end in sight.”

This is a trend that is all-to-familiar to our clients.

“Lately, however, long-suffering interns are starting to do more than complain. They point to the Labor Department’s six criteria for legal internships, which stipulate that companies that do not pay interns must provide vocational education and refrain from substituting interns for paid employees, among others.”

The article also mentions a pending LB and V&A cases: Warner Music.

Madison Square Garden Intern Lawsuit Could Create Disastrous Precedent For Sports Industry

Madison Square Garden (MSG) has become the latest company to be targeted in a class action by former interns. Unpaid MSG interns are claiming they were wrongly classified to avoid being paid. The lawsuit claims that MSG used titles such as “intern” or “student associate” when hiring college students to do work which would otherwise qualify them as employees. The class action is estimated to include more than 500 individuals. It has been alleged that these so called interns were asked to work as many as five days a week. They helped support MSG ticket and sponsorship sales, administrative projects and logistics pertaining to the organization of sports and entertainment events at the arena, all tasks that would have been performed by an employee. The suit is seeking damages to cover unpaid wages for misclassified workers stemming back to 2007. Full article.

A six-part test outlined by the Labor Department for determining whether an internship can be unpaid has been used to determine whether an unpaid internship is legal. The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

    1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
    2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
    3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
    4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
    5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
    6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Leeds Brown Law PC dedicates a large portion of its practice to the area of employment discrimination. If you worked as an unpaid intern and you believe your rights have been violated, it is important to contact an experienced attorney immediately to preserve your rights. The firm has represented individuals throughout Long Island and the New York City area in matters of wage and hour law. For more information, contact Leeds Brown Law at 1-800-585-4658 for a free consultation or visit

Madison Square Garden Latest Target Of Unpaid Intern Suit

The Madison Square Garden Co. on Monday became the latest company targeted in a putative class action alleging that it improperly classified regular employees as interns in an effort to avoid paying them, according to documents filed in New York federal court.

Read Full Article


Bank of America intern drops dead after alleged string of brutal 24-hour shifts

A German student and Bank of America intern dropped dead in London after working a string of around-the-clock shifts. Moritz Erhardt, 21, had been an undergraduate exchange student at Michigan’s Ross School of Business from January through May of this year, officials said. He accepted an internship with a London Bank of America. Erhardt was found dead in his apartment and, according to his flatmate, he had returned home at 6am three days in a row. It has been reported that Bank of America interns regularly work 14 hour days, clocking up to 100 plus hours a week. Erhardt studied at WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar, Germany. He had previous internships at Morgan Stanley, Corporate Global Investment Banking and Deutsche Bank. “We are all deeply shocked and saddened,” Peter Augustin, a spokesman for the German business school. Full article.

The U.S. Department of Labor has clear rules governing the legality of unpaid internships. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an unpaid internship is only lawful in the context of an educational training program, when the interns do not perform productive work and the employer derives no benefit. “If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled to compensation under the FLSA.”

Unfortunately, in today’s economy, where shareholder value and the bottom line take precedence over everything, companies have found a new way to improve profits—by promising educational opportunities to interns, but using them instead to replace paid employees. At Leeds Brown Law, we believe this is wrong, and will use our experience, knowledge, skill and resources to help you pursue compensation for your efforts.