Unpaid interns have no rights against sexual harassment

I don’t really have any commentary to add here, but many of you may be affected by this. Apparently in most states in the US, unpaid interns have no legal protection against sexual harassment because they’re not considered actual employees. How convenient for predators, especially in this economy.

This is just wrong. I can’t imagine I need to explain why, but based on the comments on that article I will clarify a couple of things. Yes, this particular intern was assaulted and might have made a criminal complaint. But it would have been a “he said, she said” kinda thing, so the district attorney might have discouraged her from pursuing it, and it would have been easy for a defense attorney to paint the picture of her as, say, seeking revenge because she wasn’t offered a permanent job. Very few sexual assault cases end with convictions, so “she should have reported this to the police” isn’t a viable solution.

Next, not all sexual harassment takes the form of assault. An unpaid intern might be offered a permanent job in exchange for sexual favors. Or she might be told her school will hear she was lazy and incompetent if she doesn’t perform sexual favors. Employers have a lot of power over interns, paid or otherwise, and the law needs to recognize this. While it might be more difficult to determine monetary damages in a case where no pay rate was established, “pain and suffering” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” damages are an option.

This is just unacceptable.

Comments

  1. SunlessNick says

    But it would have been a “he said, she said” kinda thing, so the district attorney might have discouraged her from pursuing it, and it would have been easy for a defense attorney to paint the picture of her as, say, seeking revenge because she wasn’t offered a permanent job.

    And while “running someone out of the industry” is often an exaggeration, it’s one based on a real thing. An intern risks the loss of a chance of a permanent job, and also the loss of references for going somewhere else – depending on the terms of the internship, they may be risking an educational qualification along the way. The latter two also put the lie to the “go somewhere else” advice.

  2. Deborah Bell says

    When I’ve experienced sexual harassment, it didn’t rise to the level of sexual assault. The worst instance was months long and never involved physical contact at all.

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