Interns Whack Conde Nast With Class Action

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Conde Nast publications paid interns “a dollar an hour, if that,” in violation of labor law, two former interns claim in a federal class action.
     Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib sued Advance Magazine Publishers dba Conde Nast Publications, for a class of interns who were paid poorly, if at all.
     Ballinger claims she worked at W Magazine, in its accessories and jewelry departments, packing and unpacking stuff, “running errands, filling out insurance forms, and doing other productive work.”
     The complaint continues: “Leib worked for Conde Nast at The New Yorker, reviewing submissions and passing on those that he recommended to his supervisors, responding to readers’ emails, proofreading, line editing, and relaying pieces between writers, cartoonists, and editors. Conde Nast paid Ballinger and Leib less than the minimum wage for the hours they worked, usually about a dollar an hour, if that.
     Both workers say that Conde Nast “relies on a steady stream of interns to perform entry-level work that contributes to its magazines’ operations and reduce its labor costs.”
     However, they say: “The Fair Labor Standards Act (‘FLSA’) does not contain an exception for interns. In 1947, in Walling v. Portland Terminal Co., the U.S. Supreme Court carved out a narrow exception from the FLSA’s broad definition of ’employee’ for participants in an employer’s brief 7-to-8 day training program whose work provided no ‘immediate advantage’ to the employer. The Supreme Court cautioned against using the decision to allow employers to do what Conde Nast and many other employers have done in recent years” ‘accept[] the services of beginners to pay less than the legal minimum[.]'” (Brackets as in complaint. Footnote omitted.)
     Citing a U.S. Labor Department fact sheet on internships, Ballinger and Leib say: “interns who work for private employers are presumed to be covered by the FLSA. Interns who ‘are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work’ must be paid the minimum wage even if they ‘receiv[e] some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits’ because the employer ‘benefits from the interns’ work.'”
     Ballinger says she interned at W Magazine from June to October 2009.
     Leib claims he had two internships at The New Yorker, one from June to late August 2009, then again from June to early September 2010.
     They seek declaratory judgment and an injunction, unpaid minimum wages, liquidated damages and damages for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.
     They are represented by Adam Klein, with Outten & Golden.

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