Watch Out, Interns. It’s Ok for Your Boss to Sexually Harass You. Really.


We don't agree with this sentiment actually, but acknowledge its existence.
We don’t agree with this sentiment actually, but acknowledge its existence.

It’s not easy being an unpaid intern. I say that as someone who not only was once an unpaid intern for a small publishing company (my head still spins thinking of all the mailings I had to do—so many packages!) but also is someone who now works for a company that utilizes unpaid interns. However, despite all the books I had to mail, I was treated pretty well as an intern. I was treated, you know, like a human. And, in turn, I have never treated an intern badly. Which, believe me, I’m not patting myself on the back for acting with the minimum level of decency. I’m just saying that all this time, I’ve been an ok person (at least to interns), when all along I could have been a raging asshole, groping interns at will and saying horrible and suggestive things, and never faced any sort of repercussions at at all! Why could I have done this? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because the world is horrible? Yes. That’s exactly why.

Gothamist reported today on a case from last week in which a U.S. Court District judge ruled that “according to the New York City Human Rights Law, unpaid interns are not covered by the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” The case in question involved “Lihuan Wang, who served as an unpaid intern at Phoenix Satellite Television U.S.’s New York bureau in early 2010…[and] her boss, Zhengzhu Liu.” Liu allegedly groped and sexually harassed Wang, but unfortunately for Wang, she can’t even take him to court because the “‘absence of renumeration’ means that the ‘essential condition to the existence of an employer-employee relationship'” didn’t exist to begin with. Basically, no money means no boss means no sexual harassment policy.

This strikes me as, oh, absurd and insulting and worthy of an appeal. Just because an unpaid intern does not earn a paycheck, that certainly doesn’t mean that they are not serving the company where they’re working in a capacity similar to that of an employee. Plus, while I don’t know the situation with Wang, many unpaid interns are earning college credits, which have a rough equivalent in dollars, so in that sense, aren’t they compensated employees? And even if they aren’t technically employees, can’t they just be treated as individuals who are entitled to live their lives without having unwanted advances forced upon them? Can’t people in positions of power (like Liu) just keep their hands to themselves? Is that really too much to ask? So, to sum up—unpaid interns, you have absolutely no rights and are at the whims of your superiors. Good luck out there!

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


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