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).