By Steven Greenhouse, New York Times:
Charlie Rose and his production company have agreed to pay as much as $250,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by a former unpaid intern who claimed minimum wage violations.
Under the settlement, Mr. Rose and his production company, Charlie Rose Inc., will pay back wages to a potential class of 189 interns. The settlement calls for the interns to receive generally $1,100 each — $110 a week in back pay, up to a maximum of 10 weeks, the approximate length of a school semester.
The main plaintiff was Lucy Bickerton, who said she was not paid when she worked 25 hours a week for the “Charlie Rose” show from June through August 2007. Ms. Bickerton said her responsibilities at the show, which appears on PBS stations, included providing background research for Mr. Rose about interview guests, putting together press packets, escorting guests through the studio and cleaning up the green room.
Ms. Bickerton in an interview described the settlement as “a really important moment for this movement against unpaid internships.”
This is the first settlement in a series of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns who asserted that they had suffered minimum wage violations. Other such lawsuits have been filed against the Hearst Corporation and Fox Entertainment — both companies deny that they failed to comply with wage and hour laws regarding their interns.
Rachel Bien, a lawyer for Ms. Bickerton, said, “We are very pleased with this settlement, and hope that many former interns will come forward to claim the amounts they are due for their work.”
The agreement covers interns who worked for the Rose show between March 14, 2006 and Oct. 1, 2012. Under the agreement, individual interns will need to file a claim to be part of the settlement.
The 10-week maximum will not apply to those who interned for the show for more than one semester. The $110-a-week settlement payment is based on an average internship day of six hours and an average internship week of 2.5 days.
Ms. Bickerton’s lawsuit was brought under New York State law, which allows plaintiffs to seek back wages going back six years, and not under federal law, which sets a three-year limit.
The lawsuit noted that unpaid internships have proliferated among many white-collar professions, including film, journalism, fashion and book publishing.
Workplace experts say hundreds of thousands of young Americans work as unpaid interns each year as they seek to gain experience and get a foothold in with highly desired employers in coveted industries. But some interns and labor advocates assert that many employers who use unpaid interns are violating federal and state laws by using them essentially to do the jobs of other workers and by not providing a true educational experience.
Ms. Bickerton’s lawsuit asserted that according to the New York State Department of Labor, “an unpaid internship is only lawful in the context of an educational training program, when the interns do not perform productive work and the employer derives no benefit.” The lawsuit cites guidance from the state Labor Department that says: “If an employer uses trainees as substitutes for regular workers or to augment its existing work force during specific times or in general, these interns would be treated as employees.”