Donald Sterling Faces Interns' Class Action

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - Donald Sterling misclassified Clippers employees as unpaid interns to stiff them for wages, a former "fan relations intern" claims in a federal class action.
     Lead plaintiff Frank Cooper sued LAC Basketball Club Inc. and The Sterling Family Trust, alleging wage and hour violations and unfair competition.
     Cooper claims he worked without pay at the Staples Center as a "fan relations intern" from Sept. 28 to Nov. 17, 2012.
     He claims that Sterling and the Clippers misclassify employees as interns, to duck their responsibility to pay wages, and do not provide the training that would make the intern classification legal.
     "Plaintiff's unpaid work for defendants is part of a broader trend where employees are being misclassified as unpaid 'interns' in an effort by employers to avoid paying wages as required by state laws and FLSA [the Fair Labor Standards Act]," the complaint states. "These programs purport to be training programs, but provide little value to the worker while enriching the employer through the provision of free labor. The result is that while certain employers save wage expenses, the economy as a whole suffers from fewer paid job opportunities. Moreover, the economic and moral wellbeing of our nation is compromised due to the further marginalization of workers who cannot provide free services but rather must accept low wage employment in other sectors, thus foreclosing certain employment options, and indeed entire fields, from the already vulnerable.
     "Defendants' failure to pay interns for years runs afoul of basic wage-and-hour laws, including the FLSA and California labor laws, which require that employers pay all of their employees - even those who are inexperienced or entry-level - the minimum wage and overtime. The law provides no exemption for interns unless they are in a vocational training program, and the United States Department of Labor uses a six-factor test to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee. A worker is a trainee only if he or she receives training similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction. The employer cannot derive any immediate advantage from the intern's work or require the intern to do the work of regular employees. '[I]f the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns' work.'" (Footnotes omitted.)
     Cooper claims Sterling et al. misclassified interns beginning at least in September 2012.
     He seeks class certification and damages for wage and hour violations, unpaid wages, and unfair competition.
     He is represented by Nicholas Ranallo, of Boulder Creek.