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Lawsuit Filed Against “The Charlie Rose Show” for Misclassification of Workers as Unpaid Interns

above-the-bar-logo.jpgA former intern recently filed a lawsuit against the PBS talk show host of “The Charlie Rose Show” (“the Show”) and its corporate owner for not paying interns any wages and employing them in violation of New York State labor laws. The complaint charges the production company with not providing any academic or vocational training and not paying wages.

Lucy Bickerton, the plaintiff in this action, is a 2008 graduate from Wesleyan University. She has alleged that she regularly worked at least 25 hours every week without any pay while on the Show’s staff in 2007. Her complaint states that “Despite the significant work they perform, Charlie Rose interns are not compensated for any of their work, in violation of New York labor law.” She has also charged the production company with not keeping accurate records of how many hours interns worked. If you think you were performing the work of an employee and were misclassified as an intern, our attorneys can help you recover your rightful compensation.

Bickerton is also seeking class action certification for all the interns who have worked on the show since March 14, 2006. The Show has more than 200 PBS affiliates across the country and regularly used about 10 unpaid interns. As an editorial intern, Bickerton had various responsibilities, which included performing research to prepare Charlie Rose for guest interviews, putting press packets together, escorting the show’s guests through the studio, breaking down the interview set after each day’s filming, and cleaning up the green room.

The New York State Minimum Wage Act, New York State Labor Law section 650-665 (“Act”) applies to all individuals who meet the legal definition of an “employee” under the Act. The Act contains an exception for 15 categories where individuals are excluded from coverage. The Act excludes from coverage any individual who is not in an employment relationship. Regarding interns, the Act looks at the totality of the circumstances, mostly using the 6 criteria set forth by the U.S. Department of Labor as well as 5 additional factors. In order to be exempt from the Act, an internship must satisfy all of the following 11 criteria:

  1. The training, even if it includes actual operation of an employer’s facilities, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace a regular employee and any work he or she does is under close supervision;
  4. The employer providing the training does not obtain any immediate advantage from the intern’s activities and, on occasion, operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The trainee is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period and is free to take another job elsewhere in the same field;
  6. The intern has been notified, in writing, that he or she will not receive any wages for such training and will not be considered to be an employee for the purposes of minimum wage:
  7. Any clinical training is performed under the supervision and direction of individuals knowledgeable and experienced in the activities being performed;
  8. The intern does not receive any employee benefits;
  9. The training is general so that the intern learns to work in any similar business, rather than specifically designed for a job with the employer offering the program;
  10. The application process for the internship only involves criteria which are relevant for admission to an independent educational program, it is not the same as applying for a paid job;
  11. Advertising for the internship is clearly set forth in terms of education and training, not for employment, although employers may state that qualified graduates may be considered for employment.

Unpaid internships are a valuable educational method when not abused by employers. Problems arise when employers begin using interns to do work that an employee would regularly do. If you feel your internship did not satisfy all the above criteria, call our Wage and Hour Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to help you figure out if you should have been classified as an employee and entitled to wages and benefits.


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NYS Department of Labor Opinion Letter, December 21, 2010

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