Another Day, Another Media-Magazine Intern Lawsuit

By William Peacock, Esq. on June 19, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Yep. First there was the bitter Black Swan lawsuit against Fox Searchlight pictures. Then, there was the Hearst Magazine class-action lawsuit, which went down in flames. Now, we’re getting a bit of déjà vu, as two former Conde Nast interns seem to be boldly going were the Hearst interns went before: the trash heap of suits denied class certification.

Seriously though, we’re curious to see how these interns plan on avoiding the same fate as the Hearst interns, who lost their claims of commonality and predominance, and by extension, their class certification, last month.

Both cases involve unpaid and/or underpaid interns. Both involve students slaving away at different magazines within the corporation in the pursuit of "valuable experience." Both seem to lack commonality and predominance prerequisites as required by the Supreme Court's class-action-killing decisions in Dukes and Comcast, respectively.

According to The New York Times, Matthew Leib, a cartoonist, worked as an intern for The New Yorker in 2009 and 2010, sorting, editing, and maintaining the online cartoon database, as well as reviewing and editing articles for other sections. He alleges that he was paid only $300 to $500 per summer.

The other plaintiff, Lauren Ballinger, worked as an intern at W Magazine in 2009, packing, organizing, and delivering accessories to the magazine's editors, allegedly for shifts lasting longer than 12 hours. She was paid $12 per day. Later, she worked 10-hour-days, three times per week, in the fine jewelry department. She also alleges that she was stiffed when it came time for a recommendation letter, which was a prerequisite to obtaining academic credit at school.

Now that is the correct (alleged) way to (hypothetically) exploit un(der) paid labor!

We're not saying the allegations are true. We're just saying, that based on the Hearst ruling from last month, such a varied arrangement of sucktacular experiences nearly guarantees that the court will be unable to find issues of commonality. In Hearst, the court found that because the exploitation was decentralized, and every intern had a different experience, in a different job, in different magazines, that there was no common injury to all of the plaintiffs.

That means claims have to be brought one-by-one, which is a far less intimidating proposition for the company than fighting hundreds of claims simultaneously, especially since most interns have probably moved on and wouldn't go through the effort of hiring a lawyer over a "Devil Wears Prada" experience. Of course, even individual claims can harm your company's bottom line (just ask Fox Searchlight, which lost their case last week), but again, that's two interns' claims versus the claims of hundreds.

The studio can probably afford it.

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