Last week, both Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs International were sued by former interns, claiming owed compensation. Another brand has been hit with the same lawsuit. Calvin Klein and parent company, PVH Corp., have been sued by former intern, Rajwinder Kaur, who claims that Calvin Klein misclassifies their interns in an effort to avoid paying them and thus keeping labor costs low.
Kaur interned for the American brand in 2009 and explains her complaint that her responsibilities included data entry, fashion show production, research and maintenance of samples. She goes on to state that she worked about 30 hours a week and did not receive compensation for her time at the brand. She also claims that she did not receive any education or training while at Calvin Klein. She is asking that the court certify a class action suit so other former interns may join the lawsuit.
Do the facts of this lawsuit sound familiar? Because they are the exact facts of the complaints filed against Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs last week. Literally. All three lawsuits claim that the respective intern conducted tasks that would be classified as employee-level rather than intern-level. All three lawsuits claim that the brand in question misclassifies interns to avoid paying them. All three lawsuits claim that each brand is violating New York state law rather than the more common federal Fair Labor Standards Act. All three lawsuits ask the court for a class action certification. And, the reason for these common facts among all three lawsuits is because all three plaintiffs are being represented by Virginia & Ambinder LLP and Leeds Brown Law PC.
The Fashion Law cites a recent case litigated by these two firms where a former intern sued the Late Show with David Letterman for unpaid compensation. That intern, Mallory Musallam, claims that the two firms contacted her after they saw her internship posted on her LinkedIn page and coerced her into filing the lawsuit against the Late Show. After filing the suit, Musallam then filed to have the lawsuit dismissed and claimed that the attorneys made her believe that her internship at the show amounted to “indentured servitude” in the eyes of the law. Both firms deny any wrongdoing. She has since issued a formal apology to the show.
Fashion internships and the legality of them have always been a hot topic. Having interned in both the fashion industry, I can definitely say that fashion internships are definitely difficult and time-consuming because your superiors grant you a fair amount of responsibility. And, while it may seem scary and it may seem that the responsibility and tasks given to the interns are those of paid employees, the belief is that you won’t learn until you actually do it. Something I wholeheartedly agree with. These fashion interns who bear a lot of responsibility during their internships will prove themselves not only useful but also essential to the maintenance of a brand, showroom or magazine.
Having interned in the legal industry as well, I can say wholeheartedly that my fashion internships prepared me for the fashion industry much more than my legal internships did, because in my fashion internships, my supervisors trusted me to learn by doing tasks that were pertinent to the work of the company. Whereas, in my legal internships, I mostly learned and observed from my supervisors and did not have much hands-on assignments. So, while the tasks of a fashion intern seem to be similar to the tasks of an employee and they should definitely be treated fairly, I think that the experience and skills that these interns gain should be recognized, because they are after all learning what their tasks and duties will be once they secure full-time jobs.