A recent sexual harassment case that was dismissed in New York found that unpaid interns are not protected by the city’s human right laws. Lihuan Wang, an intern at Phoenix Satellite Television, sued the company after her boss, Zhengzhu Liu, sexually harassed her, but a federal judge closed the case and cost Wang’s job.
In an informal survey of 15 college students, that included former unpaid interns, the majority disagreed with the judge’s verdict — they said interns should be protected from sexual harassment.
“No one should ever be sexually harassed and get away with it,” said Rita Thakur, associate dean of the College of Business and Public Management and professor of management at the University of La Verne.
“The legal system should be changed instead of changing the internship process, because sometimes, companies don’t have the funds to pay interns, and if that is the case, students won’t get the opportunities they need. As soon as you try to change unpaid internships, a lot of internships are eliminated,” Thakur said.
Even though interns are not paid, they should still have rights, students said. “They are still technically working for them, so they should be protected by the same company rules.”
“Interns are helpful in every aspect. You ask them to do anything and they will do it,” Liberty Mason, biochemistry major at California State University of Northridge, said.
“If this happened to me, I would fight it in every way possible and put the situation out in public, because if it happened once, it will happen again.”
Similar cases took place in 1994 when a nursing intern at a psychiatric hospital was harassed by a doctor. And in 2007, an intern at a chiropractor’s office faced a similar situation. When they tried to fight back, both of their cases were dismissed.
“Even if interns do not get paid, they should be able to sue,” Rafael Araujo, former unpaid intern at the Shriners Hospital for Children, said. “They are breaking someone’s rights.”
“There should be some sort of pay given to interns to make up for the jobs they had to quit so they could dedicate their time to gaining experience, and anyone should be allowed to do something against sexual harassment,” junior and liberal studies major Catherine Paz said.
According to an article on CNN, some interns have sued companies like Condé Nast and Hearst, a media corporation, for no pay and have won cases, but all sexual harassment cases have been pushed aside.
“An internship is pretty much a job so it should pay like a job—especially if it could protect them in a situation like sexual harassment,” sophomore English major, Danielle Lambell, said.
“Without the pay, it makes it really hard to keep afloat and pursue your dreams,” Dakota McElmurry, student at Santa Monica City College, said.
As of now, Oregon has been the only state to pass laws that protect all interns, whether paid or not.
Alejandra Aguilar can be reached at email@example.com.