Hearst Interns to Wait, ‘Sine Die,’ for Paychecks

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Unpaid former interns of Hearst-owned magazines cannot proceed as a class, nor will they get a trial any time soon, a federal judge ruled.
     Harper’s Bazaar employee Xueden “Diana” Wang filed a federal complaint against the publishing empire last year, hoping to represent more than 3,000 other interns hired by Hearst over the past six years.
     U.S. District Judge Harold Baer adjourned their trial “sine die,” Latin for “without [a future set] day,” on Wednesday, in a 13-page order summarizing what Wang and the co-plaintiffs learned about Hearst’s business practices during discovery.
     “Since 2008, Hearst worked to reduce costs by decreasing its headcount and expenses at the magazines as a response to the recession, and internal emails within Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire instructed the staff to use interns rather than paid messengers to save costs,” the order states.
     That year, Hearst sacked 229 full-time time employees – laying off 109 by shuttering three magazines and firing 88 middle- to senior-level and 32 entry-level staffers, according to the order.
     Its human resources department tried to fill this gap by hiring interns willing to work for college credit.
     Wang, who sometimes worked from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., served as a go-between between editors and publicists, performed online research, catalogued samples, and laid out storyboards, from August to December 2011.
     She also maintained the accessories closet.
     Other interns from Cosmo, Marie Claire, Esquire, Redbook and Seventeen joined the suit, regaling the court with similar tales of performing substantial and menial work for no pay.
     They claimed that the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law made no exception for unpaid internships.
     Agreeing on that point, Judge Baer said that the interns’ lawsuit turned on the 1947 case of Walling v. Portland Terminal.
     The Supreme Court ruled in that case that a railroad company could make workers put in roughly a week of unpaid “practical training,” and found that the company did not get “immediate advantage” from its employees.
     The Department of Labor issued a fact sheet three years ago that put “some meat on the Walling bones,” according to the ruling.
     In a six-point “Test for Unpaid Interns,” the fact sheet says that internships should be similar to educational training, benefit the intern, not displace regular employees, not derive immediate advantage from the intern, not come with the promise of a job and not dance around the lack of wages.
     Despite these criteria, Baer found that “there is no one-dimensional test; rather, the prevailing view is the totality of circumstances test.”
     This multidimensional test would be impossible to apply to a class of 3,000 members, fatally thwarting the “commonality” needed for a class action, he added.
     “The duties performed by lead and opt-in plaintiffs – to say nothing of the variation within each magazine and corporate department – clearly suggest that internships varied greatly from magazine to magazine,” Baer wrote.
     Finding that “case management would be difficult, if not near impossible,” Baer suggested that “separate actions may be more appropriate.”
     Neither set of attorneys immediately responded to a request for comment.

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