California readers may be interested in the issue of workplace discrimination and harassment as it affects unpaid interns. A law professor and intern labor rights advocate points out that not only do unpaid interns not receive employment benefits and wages, but they may find themselves in limbo when it comes to their civil rights.
For example, an unpaid intern at a psychiatric center was sexually harassed in 1994 by one of the doctors there. Other women in the office substantiated her claims. When she filed a lawsuit, her claims of sexual harassment were dismissed because she was an unpaid intern. The case was also thrown out of a federal appeals court, which affirmed the earlier decision. The reason given in the case was that because such interns do not receive a paycheck, they are not considered employees under the Civil Rights Act and are, therefore, not protected.
While federal laws do not protect unpaid interns, it is possible that companies and state or local laws may offer some protections to interns. Oregon passed a law in June that expanded harassment protections to interns, paid and unpaid. The state is the first to pass such protections, according to a spokesperson for Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries. D.C. has undertaken similar measures to protect interns from harassment. A city council measure has successfully lobbied to extend to interns the D.C. Human Rights Act protections.
Whenever a person is subjected to sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination in the workplace, that person may seek protection under the law. A dedicated California lawyer may help a client obtain compensation for harassment or discrimination. A successful case may provide compensation and restoration for an employee. It may also set a precedent and apply pressure on employers to improve workplace conditions for all employees.
Source: MintPress News, "How Unpaid Interns Aren’t Protected Against Sexual Harassment", Blair Hickman and Christie Thompson , August 10, 2013