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).

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 leedsbrownlaw.com.

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.

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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.

Newsday Column: Unpaid Internships & Social Mobility

Anne Michaud of Newsday, explored some of the underpinnings of unpaid American Dreaminternships and social mobility in her column on August 23, 2013, entitled “Internships and the American Dream” .

“Opportunities like these should be open to people up and down the socioeconomic ladder, achieved mainly by smarts and diligence. And that’s the problem with unpaid internships. They reinforce the declining social mobility in America.”

One of the principal arguments against unpaid internships is the requirement that you be  well-suited enough to afford living on no wages for several weeks or months while you pursue those internships. If you can afford to borrow from your family or live at home, that’s fantastic. But many Americans cannot afford to work for free, pay rent and afford food. That denies a large portion of the population the ability to gain experience and move up the corporate ladder — because they cannot afford to take unpaid internships. Ms. Michaud flushes out part of that argument in her piece.

Ms. Michaud concludes: “Interns, by definition, are in a fragile position — trying to get a foothold in an occupation, aiming to please. It’s a shame to exploit that eagerness by paying them nothing.”