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Interns score victory against sexual harassment, discrimination

Last December, we discussed a bill that a Northern California assemblywoman was preparing to introduce to help protect interns from sexual harassment and discrimination. Currently, people who work as interns do not have the same legal protections as regular employees. Many interns are students or young people just starting out in the workplace. They generally work for little or no money to gain entry into competitive industries.

The entertainment business here in Los Angeles benefits greatly from the work of interns. The proposed legislation would “apply general workplace civil rights protections to unpaid interns.”

While the California bill is still being considered by a legislative committee, the New York City Council has taken action that will help that city’s unpaid interns. Under the new law, interns will be protected from discrimination based on religion, race and sexual orientation, just as paid employees are. Sexual harassment is also now prohibited.

This is good news for the many interns who work in the Big Apple. However, it comes five years after Washington, D.C., a city where many young people get their start in politics and government through unpaid internships, passed a similar law. In both D.C. and New York, city council members were moved to propose such legislation after interns lost sexual harassment lawsuits. The courts determined that they didn’t have legal recourse against sexual harassment since they weren’t paid employees.

It will be interesting to see if this New York City law has any impact on our state’s legislators as they consider the California bill. There have been some high-profile lawsuits around the country that have increased attention on the vulnerability of interns in the workplace to mistreatment. Some have been successful, while others have not. By expanding legal protections to workers “without regard to whether the employer pays them a salary or wage,” as the New York law puts it, interns who face harassment or discrimination will have the law on their side.

Source: Think Progress, “Unpaid Interns In New York City Are Now Protected From Sexual Harassment” Bryce Covert, Mar. 28, 2014

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