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Top 10 Worst Cases of Intern Abuse

Interns vs. Conde Nast

This publishing conglomerate got a nasty piece of publicity after Lauren Ballinger, interning at W Magazine, and Matthew Leib, interning at the New Yorker, set lawsuits into motion in 2013 after their 2009 and 2010 internships. End result? No more interns for Conde Nast.

The coveted position wasn’t worth it for Vogue intern Lisa Denmark either, who spent her days as an intern going miles away for juice, getting dry cleaning, getting reamed out over tiny mistakes (her example involved a piece of tape that wasn’t perfectly smooth), crying herself to sleep, and learning virtually nothing about editing.

Earning a dollar an hour wasn’t worth it for Ballinger and Leib, who started the lawsuit under the claim that they were doing the work of paid employees - not receiving trade training - for well under minimum wage. 

(Image via condenast)

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Hanna Bouveng vs. New York Global Group’s Benjamin Wey

Just this year, Hanna Bouveng filed and won a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Benjamin Wey, who took advantage of her in almost every way possible during her internship at New York Global Group. The details are astonishing and profane, but essentially Bouveng claims Wey coerced Bouveng into sexual intercourse, and when she finally felt brave enough to say no, he said “he would have to think about [her] role in the company,” according to Bouveng.

After stalking her all the way back to her home in Sweden and some serious defamation of character, Bouveng couldn’t take it anymore. Wey denied everything, but a federal jury decided in Bouveng’s favor. At least one good thing came out of it: interns are finally being protected.   

(Images via benjaminwey and BouvengHanna)

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40+ Unpaid Interns vs. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Company, Dualstar

The most recent case of intern abuse making headlines centers around one of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s fashion conglomerates. Although Shahista Lalani states that the Olsen twins are both nice business women, not all of the heads of their companies are.

Lalani, along with 40 other interns, filed a class action lawsuit for the extreme overwork and under-learning their internship entailed. Lalani states that most of her job involved fetching Aleve and running errands for more than 40 hours a week (interns are only allowed to work maximum 30 hours a week), not to mention communicating all night long - and all completely unpaid.

The fashion industry’s internships have always been known for being demanding, but when Lalani was hospitalized for dehydration after such extreme and elongated overwork in poor conditions, she drew the line.

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Interns vs. Fox Searchlight Pictures

Two interns on the set of Black Swan in 2013 won a lawsuit in yet another case of an unpaid internship, where the interns got stuck with tasks such as taking lunch orders instead of learning how to work in the industry. The case led to the judge’s demand that not only should unpaid internships be rare (especially when the intern isn’t getting college credit for it), but that Department of Labor laws should be followed for interns, not just employees.  

(Image via film4insider)

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Intern vs. Hearst Magazines

Hearst Magazines, similarly to Conde Nast, are also considering shutting their internship doors after former Haarper Bazaar intern Diana Wang’s 2012 lawsuit, also for being overworked and underpaid. She worked 55 (or more) hours a week, and had absolutely nothing to show for it. In fact, “slave labor” is a term bandied about quite freely for many of these internships.

Unfortunately, Wang found out the other problem with filing a lawsuit against the company you interned for - the people you want to work for don’t admire your moxie. They just don’t want to hire you.

(Image via cecinewyork)

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Interns Taking Toilet Naps vs. Barclay Bank

The bank business is also notorious for its demanding internships - in part because it gears up interns for the long hours they can expect to put in as employees, but also because there’s no overtime pay in an unpaid internship. In fact, the hours got so long that Barclay Hong Kong interns came up with the “toilet nap.”

Interns were so desperate for sleep after working long hours that they started curling up in stalls with an alarm set on phones hooked up to ear buds. When the story came out in 2011, Barclay was forced to rework their internship programs.

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Intern vs. Entertainment Fusion Group

An unnamed public relations intern at Entertainment Fusion group left a scathing review of the company’s treatment of interns. This intern claims that instead of focusing on public relations in entertainment, they were set to putting furniture together, fetching coffee, sent on errands in hail storms, and threatened with a bad reference for not working overtime hours or through lunch - even when there was no work to be done.

Another intern chimed in to voice support to the idea that this “PR internship” had little to do with public relations, and more to do with chores.  

(Image via Glassdoor)

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The Late Moritz Erhardt vs. Bank of America

In 2013, Moritz Erhardt went three days without sleep during his seven-week internship at Bank of America in London. He was found dead in his shower after an epileptic seizure shortly thereafter. The media ran with it.

But while it’s true fatigue could have triggered the seizure, it’s also something that could have occurred from natural causes. Nonetheless, three days without sleep isn’t good for anyone, nevermind someone with epilepsy. And reasonable conditions have to be maintained, even if it isn’t for technical employees.  

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Excluded Interns vs. Forbes Editor

Forbes writer Susan Adams admits that interviewing interns at her own company showed cases of discrimination. An unnamed Forbes editor Adams describes as “a frat boy type” was in charge of a group of interns, mostly male. One was a woman, and one was a man born in Pakistan. And those two were excluded from socializing with the rest, right down with not being invited to poker night with everyone else.

Adams states the female intern cried daily, but no further information is available as to whether the editor was ever taken in hand.  

(Image via forbes)

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Intern vs. Phoenix Satellite Television U.S.’s Zhengzhu Liu

Exhaustion and overwork isn’t the worst of it. In 2009, Lihuan Wang was sexually harassed by her boss, Zhengzhu Liu, at the New York satellite of Phoenix Satellite Television U.S. According to Wang, Liu got her to come to his hotel room, claiming he wanted to talk about her work and hiring her as a full-time employee, not just an intern. When she refused his advances, he lost interest in her work abilities.

But when she tried to file a lawsuit, Judge Kevin Castel ruled that she wasn’t an employee, therefore couldn’t claim sexual harassment. Wang went home, Liu was fired, and she wasn’t the first intern to have her sexual harassment claims thrown out because of status. It’s been a slow movement, but states are slowly changing laws as more and more light is thrown on the situations.  

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