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Unpaid Interns and Sexual Harassment

Can I sue for sexual harassment if
I’m an unpaid intern?


Unfortunately, not under the same laws that protect employees.   Most state and federal employment laws protect employees, which is defined by courts as a worker who is hired by the employer and received some form of remuneration from the employer.  Courts also look to other factors such as whether the employee’s hours are controlled by the employer, and where the work takes place.   These laws do not protect unpaid interns such as the young lady in New York who suffered sexual harassment as an intern and was then unable to seek redress in court. Read more here.   However, it is possible that an unpaid intern could sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress, or battery if the harasser touched him or her.

Unpaid interns have brought lawsuits claiming that they should have been paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which has a broader definition of an “employee.”  As the plight of vulnerable people who are getting started in an industry comes to light, hopefully courts will recognize that they deserve the same rights and protections as their paid colleagues.