Human Resources News & Insights

When unpaid interns attack: ‘Charlie Rose’ show settles suit for up to $250,000

It’s still winter, but it won’t be long before you’ll be thinking about hiring summer interns. When you do, take note of this high-profile cautionary tale when you’re deciding whether they should be paid or unpaid.

American television interviewer Charlie Rose and his production company, Charlie Rose, Inc., have agreed to pay up to $250,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by a former intern who claimed she wasn’t paid for her work.

Lucy Bickerton alleged that she worked 25 unpaid hours a week from June through August 2007 for the “Charlie Rose” show. Her job duties included conducting background research on guests, compiling press packets, cleaning the show’s green room and more.

After her stint, Bickerton filed suit, claiming her and 10 other interns who were at the show at the time should have been paid.

The size of the class ballooned, and now, per the terms of the settlement, any intern who worked for the show between March 14, 2006 and Oct. 1, 2012 may be eligible for back pay — a potential class of 189 interns.

Workers will receive back wages of $110 per week they worked, up to 10 weeks — a total that could amount to $1,100 for each intern.

And, of course, Charlie Rose and company will have to pay for Bickerton’s lawyers fees, too – $50,000 worth of them.

Don’t pay the price for unpaid interns

If companies want hire and employ unpaid interns, there’s a particularly high threshold they have to pass, according to a fact sheet released by the Department of Labor in April 2010.

The following six criteria must be applied when determining if an internship can be unpaid:

  1. 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;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

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