When unpaid interns encounter sexual harassment at work, federal law tells them tough luck. Some states and cities have expanded discrimination and harassment definitions to interns, but that does not include New York City, where a district court dismissed a sexual harassment claim from a former intern at Phoenix Satellite Television, Lihuan Wang. The reason she is not protected, the court said, was because she was not a compensated employee.
In January, Wang filed a complaint that two weeks into her internship in 2010, her supervisor had allegedly invited Wang to his hotel room, where he put his arms around her, tried to kiss her, and squeezed her butt. She pushed him away and said that she was not considered for a job later because of it.
In order to be protected under the Civil Rights Act, interns need to receive “significant remuneration,” such as compensation or benefits, and there are no shortage of unpaid interns that do not meet that criteria. DC passed its own protections after a woman’s sexual harassment case was dismissed, and Oregon became the first state to follow with new legislation this summer. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the court decision specifically cited that, “the New York City Council has had several opportunities to amend the law to protect unpaid interns but has declined to do so.”