Two fashion houses, Marc Jacobs International and Oscar de la Renta, have become the latest in the fashion industry to be hit with unpaid internship lawsuits.
Marc Jacobs International, which houses the brands Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs, has been sued by former intern, Linney Warren, for failing to pay interns. Warren was a production intern for Marc Jacobs from April to June 2009.
In her complaint, she claims that Marc Jacobs’ internship program violates New York state law and misclassifies entry level employees as interns in an effort to avoid paying employees and minimizing costs. Warren claims that during her internship she worked 70-hour weeks and performed tasks such as transporting raw materials, organizing fabrics, sewing and running errands for her supervisors.
Oscar de la Renta was also sued this week by former intern, Monica Ramirez, who interned for the brand between January and April 2009, for failure to pay interns.
In her complaint, Ramirez claims that the fashion house also improperly classifies entry level employees at interns and therefore avoids paying these employees. Ramirez claims that the work she performed is classified as entry level rather than intern work. These tasks included making jewelry, delivery fabric and accessories and dressing models.
As mentioned above, Ramirez is claiming that Oscar de la Renta is violating New York state law rather than the more common Fair Labor Standards Act that many unpaid internship lawsuits are predicated on. Both lawsuits claim that each company is violating the standards set out by the New York state law for determining whether an individual is classified as an intern or an employee.
The factors that determine this classification are:
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern works under close staff supervision and does not displace regular employees;
- The employer derives no immediate advantage from and may in fact be impeded by the intern;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job after the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages;
- Interns be notified in writing that they will not receive any wages and are not considered employees for minimum wage purposes;
- Any clinical training is performed under the supervision and direction of people who are experienced in the activity;
- The interns do not receive employee benefits;
- The training is general and qualifies interns to work in any similar businesses in the industry;
- Advertisements, postings, or solicitations for the internship program clearly discusses the educational benefits rather than employment, although employers may indicate that qualified graduates may be considered for employment.
All eleven factors must be met for an employee to be classified as an intern, otherwise, the employee is deemed an employee and is entitled to at least minimum wage.
Fashion internships are notorious for being rather laborious and difficult. I can speak from experience having interned at Women’s Wear Daily. However, I can also attest to the great benefits that a fashion internship can bring. I learned an immense amount from all of my internships, and the connections and opportunities that these internships bring are really rather amazing.
Warren, for example, went on to work as a freelance designer for J. Crew, an associate designer for the Jones Group, a fashion conglomerate, and is currently working as an assistant designer for Banana Republic. So, it could be argued that interning at Marc Jacobs attributed to the success she has found so far in the industry. However, on the flip side, just because her time at the fashion house may have helped her find her success does not necessarily mean that she shouldn’t be compensated for the work she performed during her time at Marc Jacobs, if under the eyes of the law, her work was that of an employee rather than an intern.
Interestingly enough, both plaintiffs are being represented by Virginia & Ambinder LLP and Leeds Brown Law PC, and both lawsuits ask the court to certify class action lawsuits, so that other interns who worked for Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta can join the lawsuit pertaining to them.