Last year, a New York federal district court ruled that a Syracuse University student was not covered under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights law because she was an unpaid intern. The student had alleged that her supervisor at the company where she had her internship had sexually harassed her, including kissing and groping her. She also alleged that she suffered retaliatory actions from the supervisor after she rebuffed his advances.
As a result of the ruling, California Assemblymember Nancy Skinner introduced a bill that would protect volunteers and unpaid interns from sexual harassment even if they weren’t getting paid for their volunteer hours or internships. That bill was recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown. The signing of the bill makes California the third state to specifically ban discrimination and sexual harassment against unpaid interns.
Assemblymember Skinner said, “No one should give up their basic civil rights just because they are willing to forgo pay for experience.” According to a survey done in 2012 by Intern Bridge, a consulting firm, most of the unpaid internships are held by women.
Sexual harassment is not allowed in workplaces — whether someone is being paid or not — in California. In addition, discriminating against an unpaid intern on the basis of his or her gender is also specifically prohibited by the newly-signed law.
Those who have been subjected to sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliatory actions have a right to file a complaint. If that does not produce results, then a lawsuit may be filed against his or her employer and the alleged perpetrator of the sexual harassment.
Source: sfbay.ca, “Unpaid interns now guarded from sexual harassment” Hannah Albarazi, Sep. 14, 2014