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Class-Action Notices to Sirius Interns Approved

MANHATTAN (CN) - A former "Howard Stern Show" go-fer turned a corner in a case against Sirius, as a federal judge conditionally certified a class Friday afternoon.

Noting that the statute of limitations clock is clicking away for many potential plaintiffs, lawyers for Melissa Tierney, the former intern who sued the radio network in April, wanted U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni to act quickly on their bid to send out class-action notices.

Virginia & Ambinder attorney LaDonna Lusher told the judge at a hearing Friday that Tierney's experience was similar to that of interns throughout Sirius' five locations in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Nashville and New Jersey.

A human-resources officer for Sirius even conceded that all Sirius interns get screened through the same centralized program, Lusher said.

Judge Caproni seemed skeptical how similar the interns' experiences were.

"If you're working at the 'Howard Stern Show' you'd be doing different things than if you're working for 'NFL Today,'" she said.

After Lusher said that Tierney's internship consisted mostly of running errands, taking breakfast orders and getting food, Caproni cut to the chase and called the plaintiff a former "go-fer."

Her lawyer agreed that was true.

Other co-plaintiffs had more substantial tasks, including a former "Opie & Anthony Show" intern who says that he also cut ads, Lusher said.

Attorney Matthew Lampe, representing Sirius for Jones Day, said that ex-interns provided only "bare-naked statements" to support their case so far, and want to radically enlarge the case on that basis.

"There's a massive expansion of litigation that's hanging in the balance," he said, estimating about 1,000 potential plaintiffs in the five cities.

Lampe likened the Sirius interns' suit to the 1947 case Walling v. Portland Terminal, in which the Supreme Court let a railroad company put workers through roughly a week of unpaid "practical training."

Lusher countered that Walling hinged upon the finding that, unlike Sirius, the railroad got no "immediate advantage" from its employees.

In response, Caproni quipped that, without Tierney's internship, "Howard Stern Show" staffers could have gotten their "own damn coffee," to laughter in the court.

After a brief pause in a roughly hour-long hearing, the judge ruled for the interns.

Sirius and its challengers have been asked to agree upon class-action notices by Nov. 21, and the radio network will have the opportunity to decertify the class pending the production of evidence in the discovery phase.

The lawsuit is among a growing number of labor actions by former unpaid interns who allegedly come to regret performing free work for which others employees get paid.

The Southern District of New York alone has heard cases against Gawker; Hearst-owned magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Cosmo, Marie Claire, Esquire, Redbook and Seventeen; and Fox Searchlight, which came under fire by interns for the movie "Black Swan."

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