When most people hear the word internship, they think of an unpaid employment opportunity that offers a chance to learn the ropes of a job. In recent court cases, that general perception has been challenged as interns ban together and fight for various types of compensation. One such case involved the media group Gawker. What started as two former interns filing a lawsuit grew to more than a thousand plaintiffs after the court agreed to certify the case, and allow the use of social media to contact class members.
In making its determination, the court pointed to several common factors among the interns, including evidence that they:
- Performed job duties that closely resembled those performed by paid employees, including publication contributions;
- Were given on-the-job training;
- Were subject to the same rules and policies as employees and were treated in the same manner as employees by management;
- Had access to the same internal communication system that the employees used; and
- Received no specialized training that differed from training given to employees.
The court’s decision to certify the case as a class action did not speak to the legal validity of the underlying claim about alleged violations of the Fair labor Standards Act. Instead, it solely opened the door for plaintiffs to contact other potential plaintiffs and invite them to join the class action case.