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Unpaid Hearst Interns Not Employees, Dismissal Affirmed

By George Khoury, Esq. on December 14, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Wang v. Hearst case has been closely watched over the past several years as the courts worked to define when an unpaid internship violated the FLSA.

As one of the major fashion media corporations, Hearst was upfront in seeking out the unpaid interns, but the case erupted after some of those interns felt that Hearst was getting the better end of the bargain. Unfortunately for the interns, the law surrounding unpaid internships is anything but certain. And sadly for those interns, in providing some certainty on the law, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of their action against Hearst on summary judgment, finding that none of the plaintiff interns were employees.

Strike Two

This was the second time the Second Circuit heard this matter. The first time around it remanded the action, instructing the lower district court to apply the, at the time, recently established Glatt v. Fox factors. Upon doing so, the plaintiffs' claims were dismissed, and this instant appeal was filed. At this stage, the plaintiffs can ask for an en banc rehearing, or seek to invoke the help of the High Court.

Have the Intern Do It

The interns complained that though it was clear that they were accepting an unpaid internship, and though most even received some academic benefit for doing so, still the positions were more akin to entry level grunt work than educational internships. The thrust of the allegations centered on the fact that the work performed often involved menial or repetitive tasks. While the interns alleged that this transformed the internship into an actual job, the courts were not convinced. In fact, the courts found that these tasks were part of the training an intern received as gaining hands on experience in day to day operations is what internships are all about.

The appellate court approved of the lower court's analysis on summary judgment, explaining that the internships could have been structured better, but that they did not violate the FLSA, as a matter of law.

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