A New York District Judge ruled that unpaid interns are not protected from sexual harassment as promulgated by the New York Human Rights Law because they are not deemed to be “real” employees. This ruling was based upon claims of a 26-year-old Syracuse University graduate and unpaid intern, Lihuan Wang, who allegedly experienced sexual advances from her supervisor and boss in 2009.
She claims that when she was 22-years-old and working as an unpaid intern at Phoenix Satellite Television U.S., the American branch of a Hong Kong-based media company, her boss allegedly lured her into his hotel room and tried to force himself on her with kisses, groping and other unfavorable actions and statements.
In his decision, New York Judge Kevin Castel wrote, “It is uncontested that Wang received no remuneration for her services. New York City’s Human Rights Laws protection of employees does not extend to unpaid interns.” The boss was ultimately fired from Phoenix.
What Does This Mean?
As there are numerous state and federal regulated statutes protecting employees from both discrimination and harassment, only one state offers these protections to unpaid interns. At this time, the only state to offer sexual harassment protection to unpaid interns is the state of Oregon.
If you do not have status as an employee, meaning, if you are not paid for services provided to a company, the rules supported by the New York City Human Rights Laws do not apply to you and any claims of discrimination or sexual harassment will not withstand a claim in the courts.
How Does This Affect You?
As most interns, specifically unpaid interns, are young, naïve and impressionable, this ruling (along with others that support this ruling) unfortunately leaves many open to unwanted advances without any form or retribution. Whether based upon state or federal laws, most courts hold on to the premise that if you are not technically an employee, you are not entitled to any rights given to employees. As most courts these days are also coming down on unpaid internships due to other claims involving back pay, etc., it is safe to assume that the role of an unpaid intern is being significantly admonished.
Though you may want to obtain work related experience in an area of interest, by any means necessary, all signs are pointing away from an unpaid internship. Not only are companies being reprimanded for them, the actual interns are not provided protective rights. If you are in a position as an unpaid intern, and have experienced any form of sexual advances or harassment, you should report it to Human Resources, just so they are aware and can take any action hey choose against the aggressor. However, your best bet (in my opinion) would be to graciously remove yourself from that company and the unpaid position.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.
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Check out this gallery of the most powerful women to follow on Twitter!
1. 15 Powerful Women To Follow On Twitter
Social media has completely taken over our lives. I've always had a personal opposition against social media, often times claiming that it makes us even more unsocial. However, there is a lot of good in social media that one has to learn how to use for their advantage. The best way to take advantage of social media is to cultivate who you follow. Make sure that who you follow is applicable to your life as well as entertaining. Check out this list of 15 powerful women to follow on Twitter.
2. Erykah Badu
There's just something about Erykah that is beyond hypnotizing. Her tweets bring you into her world of being an artist and a doula. Yes, Erykah tweets about the babies she helps deliver. @fatbellybella
3. Gayle King
Besides being Oprah's best friend, Gayle King is known for being a CBS This Morning cohost and Editor-at-Large for O Magazine. Her take on the entertainment industry is often funny and exclusive! @GayleKing
This woman needs no explaining. Just follow her. @oprah
5. Michelle Obama
Obviously, following the first lady is the first thing you should do on Twitter. Under her new account @FLOTUS, not every tweet is hers, but when you see it signed in "mo, you can guarantee that the first lady is reaching out to you directly. @FLOTUS
6. Christiane Amanpour
As one of the most iconic TV journalists, Christiane Amanpour is a powerful Twitter user. She offers breaking news on global conflicts, and provides unique insights and perspectives to political happenings and world events. You don't even need to follow CNN if you're following Christiane. @camanpour
7. Soledad O'Brien
8. Chelsea Clinton
It helps that Chelsea Clinton is the famed offspring of Bill & Hillary Clinton. But she is also a tireless advocate for a healthy and safe world. As an NBC News Special Correspondent and active member of the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea has immeasurable insight of the world to share. @ChelseaClinton
9. Caterina Fake
Caterina Fake tweets about the latest digital news, technology and her own personal views, passions and interests. @Caterina
10. Zainab Salbi
Zainab Salbi is the founder of Women for Women International and served as the organization's CEO from 1993 to 2011. If you want news, stats and opinions on humanitarian crises, follow her. Oh and you can learn how you can contribute in making the world a better place. Who doesn't love that?! @ZainabSalbi
11. Robin Roberts
This "Good Morning America" news anchor is nothing short of amazing. With her inspirational story as a foundation, follow her entertaining tweets as she hobknobs with celebs and shares inspiring anecdotes from other cancer survivors. @RobinRoberts
12. Mary Grove
Mary Grove is the Director of Google for Entrepreneurs. With a passion for building her community, Mary is constantly tweeting about what's next in technology and business. @maryGrove
13. Maya Angelou
There's nothing but reverence in our hearts for Dr. Maya Angelou. Please follow this poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, civil-rights activist, producer and director for tweets that are always worth retweeting. @DrMayaAngelou
14. Gabby Douglas
We've watched her kick major Olympic gymnast butt, but following Gabby Douglas is nothing like following an obnoxious teen who has more gold medals than you. It's just like following your little sister. Check out Gabby's adorable tweets! @gabrielledoug
15. Donna Brazile
You've definitely seen her byline before. Donna Brazile is a political strategist, contributor to CNN and ABC News, educator, author and more. Follow her tweets for absolutely everything a woman of color could ever care about. @donnabrazile
16. Shonda Rhimes
Other than creating one of the biggest shows to his Black Twitter since...well...anything Tyler Perry put out, Shonda Rhimes is one to follow on Twitter and in life! Her tweets are often inspirational and "Scandal"-related. @shondarhimes