Recent Lawsuits Bring Attention to the Plight of the Unpaid Intern

Written by: Kristiina Yang

coffee mug reading "fill this, intern"

Interns are expected to work long hours and are often given menial tasks. (Photo: wesleying.org)

With many college students and recent graduates already or soon partaking in summer internship season, several class-action lawsuits occurring over the past year against major companies are bringing to question the morality, legality and future existence of unpaid internships.

In the United States, there are nearly 1.5 million internships offered each year with approximately half of those being unpaid. In the midst of recession and a difficult job market, many companies are asking and requiring their interns to spend long hours doing work that should be tasked to entry-level employees and often with no financial compensation.

Such was the impetus for three major lawsuits filed this past year- beginning with one in September 2011 against Fox Searchlight Pictures, another in February 2012 against the Hearst Corporation (owner of the magazine Harper’s Bazaar), and one the following month against the “Charlie Rose” show.

In each case, former unpaid interns purported that the hiring companies had required them to work excessively long hours with no compensation, violating federal and state wage and labor laws. While these sued companies have denied wrongdoing and the cases have yet to be resolved, such lawsuits are sending a warning signal to both employers who plan on hiring interns and to students considering taking unpaid internships about exactly what will be expected of them and whether such expectations are legitimate or not.

The New-York-City-based law firm Outten & Golden is behind all three of the class-action suits filed so far and have created a website providing information on the cases and calling on former and current unpaid interns to come to their firm with any information and complaints.

Such legal actions are bringing to question the future of the unpaid internship, a rite of passage that has become prominent for both students in college looking to gain experience and postgraduates hoping to get a foot in the door toward a future career. Although unpaid internships have risen to become extremely desirable and competitive in past decades, these lawsuits show that this norm may be shifting.

Despite such increased public attention on the poor treatment of unpaid interns, companies will still likely continue to offer unpaid internships. However, with companies in fear of having to deal with such potentially time-consuming and reputation-tarnishing lawsuits, paid and unpaid internship programs are seeing and hopefully will continue to see restructuring, returning the internship to the valuable educational experience that it is intended to be.

Worst Company EVER: Biotech Giant Monsanto is Under Attack, Obama and the FDA are Under the Gun

 

CREDO Action - Dump Michael Taylor

Via CREDO Action website

By Allison Hibbs

Monsanto, the multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation long reviled by organic farmers, environmentalists and conscientious foodies worldwide, has drawn more than the usual amount of rancor in recent months. While assailants are hoping the media blitzkrieg will prove as damaging to the company as they claim that its bioengineering and genetic modification practices are to the planet, that hope may prove optimistic in light of its cozy relationship with the United States federal government. Efforts to diminish that relationship have led to the recent circulation of more than one petition calling for the dismissal of FDA Food Safety Czar, Michael Taylor, a former top Monsanto executive.

One reason for the recent outrage is a perceived “crusade” by the FDA against small raw milk dairy farmers, many of whom are Amish, even as they overlook repeated violations by larger, industrial producers. CREDO, a publication of Working Assets, began a campaign in late January to educate and motivate consumers to sign a pledge beseeching President Obama to expel Taylor from the administration.

"While factory farm operators are getting away with serious food safety violations, raw milk dairy farmers and distributors across the country have been subjected to armed raids and hauled away in handcuffs."

CREDO Action

CREDO believes that the FDA’s efforts would be better spent enforcing food safety regulations at the largest industrial producers, where it claims that “antibiotic resistance has run amuck,” rather than focusing so much of the administration’s efforts on sting operations to arrest small dairy farmers.

"Incredibly, Michael Taylor and FDA inspectors have not arrested or fined the Iowa agribusinessman -- Jack DeCoster -- who was wholly responsible for the more than 500 million eggs that were recalled in 2010 salmonella-tainted egg recall. 3Though this industrial agribusinessman endangered the health of millions, Michael Taylor thinks Amish farmers producing fresh milk are more deserving targets of his FDA enforcement raids with guns drawn."

CREDO Action

 

The petition had garnered 151,160 signatures as of SuperBowl Sunday, 75 percent of its 200,000 goal.

SignOn.org Petition: Tell Obama to Cease FDA Ties to Monsanto

Another petition circulating on Twitter and Facebook had reached a total of 220,000 signatures by game time, far surpassing its original goal of 75,000. Written and circulated by Frederick Ravid, this petition includes a longer letter to the president, expressing opposition to the his administration’s appointment of Taylor three years ago.

“Taylor is the same person who as a high-ranking official at the FDA in the 1990s promoted allowing genetically modified organisms into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks,” reads the letter. “This is a travesty.” Pointing out that Taylor was in charge of policy regarding the widely-opposed bovine growth hormone and that he fought against the requirement for disclosures on milk from cows that had been treated with the hormone, Ravid goes on to decry Monsanto as a company directly threatening the health and well-being of US citizens.

Reinforcing these concerns are WikiLeaks documents that surfaced last year implicating the Bush administration in questionable tactics used against countries in Europe to impel them to purchase Monsanto GMO products that they were resisting. Other documents imply that the US government considered putting pressure on the Pope to come out in favor of GMO foods. If any such actions were taken, they have proven largely unsuccessful and Monsanto has been repeatedly thwarted in France, Germany and the UK.

 

Additionally, lawsuits have been brought against the biotech giant by India and Canada for biopiracy and biocontamination, respectively; and a group of 270,000 American organic farmers are also suing the company for biocontamination. Ironically, the move is intended to protect these farmers against possible patent-infringement lawsuits brought by Monsanto over GMO seeds that have migrated to – and compromised – their lands.

For all of these reasons (and more), Monsanto has been voted Worst Company of 2011 by Natural Society, and the public seems increasingly to agree. As the acrimony grows, it is beginning to look like the corporation’s PR department has some serious damage control to do if it hopes to retain any influence over government activity.  It is, after all, an election year and Obama may not have the luxury of ignoring so many voters crying “Why, O, why?”

Lawsuit Will Decide Who Will Receive Credit for the Hurt Locker

Sarver on the Left, James on the Right

Jeffrey Sarver, a 38-year-old sergeant in the army’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal, claims that he was the model for the main character in the movie the Hurt Locker,  and has therefore introduced a multimillion-dollar lawsuit after failing to receive any credit for his efforts.

In the film, Jeffrey was depicted as Will James (played by Jeremy Renner), the extreme risk-taker soldier who continuously pushes his bomb-disposing buddies to take ever-increasing risks while they’re out in the field; however, Summit Entertainment, the film’s distributors, asserts that the character is entirely fictitious.

Sarver, now armed with the infamously tough-as-nails lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger – who had worked on such controversial cases as that of Jack Kevorkian (aka Doctor Death) – are adamantly pressing the belief that a soldier’s life has been stolen by Hollywood. They draw the attention of the jury to the fact that Mark Boal, the screenwriter, was also a journalist who had essentially followed Sarver and a few other soldiers around for a report he was doing for Playboy magazine. They also mention how some of Boal’s best lines, including the title, were down right stolen straight from the soldier’s mouth (so to speak); for example, the nickname for Will James’ character, “Blaster One,” was actually Sarver’s call signal in the field.

The Movie Marquee

But, in spite of the evidence, there is still some speculation regarding whether of nor this lawsuit is built on noble grounds, since some propose this as just another ploy by the opposition to prevent a nominee from winning an Oscar. Whatever happens next, hopefully the man who actually owns the hurt locker receives the credit that he deserves – be it the soldier – or the man who brought the story to the masses.