Intern Sexual Harassment Suit Tossed Because She Was Unpaid

Wednesday, 09 Oct 2013 06:35 PM

By Robin Farmer

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A lawsuit filed by an unpaid intern over alleged sexual harassment from her boss was dismissed last week because a New York federal district court said she wasn't technically an employee and therefore didn't retain that right.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York made the ruling against Lihuan Wang, a former business intern at Phoenix Satellite Television U.S., and said she could not bring a suit against her former supervisor and bureau chief, Liu Zhengzhu, CNN Money reported.

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"It is uncontested that Wang received no remuneration for her services," New York Judge Kevin Castel wrote. "New York City's Human Rights Law's protection of employees does not extend to unpaid interns."

Wang, then 22, interned in the Chinese-language media company’s New York office while a graduate student at Syracuse University. In the lawsuit, she said Liu sexually harassed her after he asked her to come to his hotel room to discuss her job performance and the possibility of a full-time position.

Once alone, Wang alleged that Liu embraced her, tried to kiss her, and "squeezed her buttocks with his left hand," CNN said. After she rebuffed his advances and departed, she said Liu no longer expressed interest in giving her a job.

Wang has since moved back to China. CNN Money reported Liu was fired from his job after the company investigated Wang’s allegations.

Attorney Lynne Bernabei, who represented Wang in the case, told CNN Money changes are needed in employment laws.

"As young interns, these are the most vulnerable people and clearly they should be protected," she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, interns can work without compensation as long as their internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment, benefits the intern, and does not displace regular employees.

Also, the employer providing the internship, “derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern,” the intern is not guaranteed a job, and both the employer and intern understand wages will not be provided.

CNN reported only one state, Oregon, has broadened the standards for harassment to protect unpaid interns. The state passed a law in June that extends such protections to all interns, whether they're paid or not.

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