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Unpaid Interns Can't Sue for Sex Harassment: Judge

The city's Human Rights Law has been modified several times over the years, but added protections still do not extend to unpaid interns, the judge said

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    Louis Soteriou pleaded guilty in April in federal court in Rutland, Vermont to charges of money laundering and conspiracy. He's scheduled to be sentenced on Monday.

    Unpaid interns cannot sue their bosses for sexual harassment in New York City because they're not employees, which means they're not covered by the city's Human Rights Law, a federal judge ruled. 

    In issuing his Oct. 3 ruling, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Kevin Castel noted that the City Council has modified the law several times over the years to extend its protections, but none of those changes cover unpaid interns. They're not on the payroll, so they're not considered employees under the law. 

    Castel's decision stems from a January lawsuit filed by 22-year-old Lihuan Wang, who claimed that just two weeks into her internship at Phoenix Satellite Television US's New York location, her supervisor lured her to a hotel room under the pretense of a job-performance review and tried to grope and kiss her "by force."

    In the lawsuit, Wang said she pushed the supervisor away and ran out of the hotel room. She approached him about potential job opportunities several months later, and says he asked her to stay with him in a hotel room in Atlantic City. She refused.

    The supervisor was fired last year after Phoenix Satellite Television, a Chinese-language broadcast company, investigated Wang's allegations. 

    She has since moved back to China. Her lawyer, Lynne Bernabei,  told The New York Post she plans to refile the federal case in Washington, D.C., where similar cases against Phoenix and the supervisor in Wang's case have been brought more effectively. 
    "There is no logical reason to allow an intern who is young and vulnerable to be sexually harassed," Bernabei told the Daily News. 
    City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan, told the Daily News that she would introduce legislation this week to include unpaid interns in the city's human rights law. 

    The law was last amended in 2005. Public Advocate and Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio, who oversaw that modification, told the News, "No one should ever be denied protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. Period."

    Phoenix's attorneys did not respond to the Post's requests for comment.

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