Last week, a New York judge issued a historic decision to award a class of unpaid interns. In February 2013, Elite Model Management was sued by a former unpaid intern who claimed that the interns were executing the same kind of work as employees were. The plaintiff claimed that she and others similarly classified, were required to work over 40 hours per week, and of course, without pay. The interns were classified as non-employee so that they were not afforded the state and federal protections that an employee was entitled to. The plaintiff sought over $50 million in damages.
This all began back in February 2013, when intern Dajia Davenport concluded her four week internship term. She sought to file an individual lawsuit looking for the tall amount of reward, but the judge instead issued a more level class action award.
In the judgment, the plaintiff was awarded close to $450,000. This is believed to be the largest award for an unpaid intern case in history. More than 100 former interns are set to receive a minimum payment of $700. Awards vary between $700 and $1,750, which covers minimum wage for the 100 individuals awarded for their four week period with Elite.
Attorney for Davenport stated that he believed this was a favorable sum for the class. “Elite is a reasonable company that decided to do the right thing” by choosing not to fight heavily and respecting the award.
This is not the first time a powerhouse media/fashion company has been slapped with these kinds of lawsuits. Two former interns with the W and The New Yorker filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of interns who were not paid minimum wage for the duration of their internships. Back in February 2012, a former intern with Harpers Bizarre sued for minimum wage and overtime claims.
If you find yourself in an internship program and feel you may have been misclassified, please contact an attorney immediately. The statute of limitations for possible wage claims is three years in the state of California.