Internships are offered as a way to gain experience.  But, often the only persons who can afford to accept an internship are children of families who can support the worker.  Apparently, some internships are nothing more than a way to avoid paying minimum wages.  The Charley Rose Show, seen on PBS, has agreed to settle claims by interns who claimed they should have been paid – even though they accepted unpaid positions.  The Department of Labor explains that internships are supposed to involve education more than traditional labor.  

The Charley Rose Show agreed to settle a class action claim of up to 189 interns for $250,000.  Similar claims have been filed by the same law firm against Fox Searchlight Pictures and the Hearst Corporation.  The Charley Rose lawsuit cited guidance from the DOL that states that trainees who merely replace regular workers or augment regular workers should be paid minimum wage.  See New York Times report.  

In fact, DOL guidance requires that to qualify as an internship,

  • the job must benefit the intern
  • the intern does not displace regular staff
  • the employer who provides the training receives no actual benefit and the training may even impede the operations of the employer
  • the intern is not necessarily entitlted to a job at the conclusion of the internship
  • the internship includes training which would be similar to training in an educational environment

See DOL Guidance on internships here

Internships are common in many white collar industries.  In fact, many judges and courts of appeal regularly offer internships.  But, yes, I am sure the educational component is no different than any new hire.  There may be many more such lawsuits in the future.