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Former Donna Karan Intern Sues for Unpaid Wages

By Nadine Etienne

On August 28th, Valentino Smith, a former Donna Karan intern, filed a class action lawsuit against Donna Karan International Inc. and Donna Karan Studio LLC for failure to pay wages pursuant to the New York Labor Law in New York Supreme Court. (On November 8th, the caption of the complaint was amended from Valentino Smith against Defendants Donna Karan International, Inc. and Donna Karan Studio LLC to Valentino Smith against the Donna Karan Company Store LLC and the Donna Karan Company LLC.) Smith worked as an undergraduate intern at the company's Seventh Avenue headquarters in 2009, but now claims he was mischaracterized in contravention of New York Labor Law.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Fact Sheet #71, an unpaid internship must meet a set of criteria that benefits the intern in order to be considered lawful. Specifically, the internship must be similar in training to an educational institution, must be for the benefit of the intern, must not displace regular employees, and may not inure to the employer's immediate advantage. The DOL does not require the internship to entitle an intern to a later permanent position. Additionally, the intern must understand that the position is unpaid.

The New York Minimum Wage Act and Wage Orders Fact Sheet for For-Profit Businesses (Minimum Wage Fact Sheet) applies the DOL's criteria as well as its own in determining an employment relationship. The Minimum Wage Fact Sheet requires intern supervision by persons who have sufficient knowledge of the industry. Interns may not be eligible for employee benefits, and should receive training in skills transferable to any business and not just the specific job with the employer. The Minimum Wage Fact Sheet also requires that internship job postings and advertisements clearly discuss education or training rather than employment.

Recently, in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight, Judge William Pauley issued a ruling in favor of unpaid interns to pursue their class action against Searchlight for unpaid wages in federal court. (No. 11 Civ. 6784 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2013)). Conde Nast also has a pending wage and hour lawsuit in federal court from two former interns who worked at The New Yorker and W Magazine. (Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib, et al., v. Advance Magazine Publishers, Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast Publications, No 13 Civ. 4036 (S.D.N.Y. June 13, 2013)). In October, Conde Nast announced that it is ending its internship program. The wage and hour suit against Donna Karan may spawn further class action litigation and may have a similar affect on internship programs offered by New York fashion houses.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 21, 2013 11:45 AM.

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