The New York City Council voted 50-0 yesterday to prohibit employers from discriminating against unpaid interns on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation, citizenship status or status as a victim of domestic violence, sex offenses or stalking. Claimants will be permitted under the bill to either sue or make a complaint to the Commission on Human Rights.
The City Council responded to a recent NY federal court decision which held that unpaid workers are not employees for purposes of the anti-discrimination laws, a decision which we discussed on October 15, 2013: “Rarely do federal court decisions go viral, but this one did. A federal judge in NYC recently ruled against an upaid female intern who alleged sexually harassment by a company higher-up. The Court held that because she was not an “employee,” she had no claim for hostile work environment under the New York City Human Rights Law (N.Y. City Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq.) (“NYCHRL”). The media and pundits on all sides had a feeding frenzy.”
On October 29th we reported that “Indiana University Law professor Deborah Widiss said that the decision ‘reveals a very important gap [in the harassment laws] that I think needs to be addressed.’ We noted that this “loophole” was cited by city and state politicians who promised remedial legislation.
State legislators thereafter introduced a bill which would “fill the gap,” but that bill is bottled up in committee. So the City has acted.
For definitional purposes, an “employee” under the newly passed bill is: “an individual who performs work for an employer on a temporary basis whose work provides or supplements training given in an educational environment where the employability of the individual performing the work may be enhanced, experience is provided for the benefit of the individual performing the work, and the work is performed under the close supervision of staff.”