Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse

Second Circuit to Hear Important Unpaid Labor Case Wang, et al. v. The Hearst Corporation

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed to review Wang, et al. v. The Hearst Corporation, on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, a wage and hour case relating to the specific and important issues of unpaid labor presented by internships, in particular, whether the plaintiff interns are employees who should be paid minimum wages, not unpaid interns, based on the work they do and how it benefits Hearst. Lieff Cabraser filed the amicus brief with the Second Circuit, work that was led by Rachel Geman and Michael Decker.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer, Hearst Corporation, concluding that no reasonable jury could find that the plaintiff interns are employees doing work meriting payment of minimum wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act and in light of case precedent.

Noting that “the concerns of the dangers of alternative working arrangements (including rampant use of unpaid interns)” are only growing, the amicus brief from a group of labor unions, non-profit organizations, law professors, and a writer argues that the district court erred in not sending the disputed issues of fact in the case to a jury, and that such treatment is consistent with well-settled law that the FLSA must be interpreted liberally and that its exceptions and exemptions should be applied narrowly. As the brief notes:

given how fact-intensive the inquiry into economic realities necessarily is, and especially due to the governing ‘totality of the circumstances’ test that rests on a factual comparison of differential benefits (benefits to the intern/employee, benefits to the employer), it is especially important to send disputed issues of fact to the jury, which the District Court did not do here.

The amici that Lieff Cabraser represented are:

  • The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
  • The Communications Workers of America
  • The Economic Policy Institute
  • The Intern Worker Alliance
  • The National Employment Lawyers Association
  • The National Employment Law Project
  • The Service Employees International Union
  • The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
  • The Writers Guild of America, East
  • Scott Moss, Professor at the University of Colorado Law School and Chair of the Admissions and Career Services Committee
  • Ross Perlin, an independent writer and expert on the issue of internships and unpaid labor
  • David C. Yamada, Professor of Law and Director of the New Workplace Institute at the Suffolk University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts