New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed into law a bill protecting interns in the City from job discrimination to the extent as is presently available to employees. The law, amending the New York City administrative code, was approved by the Mayor on April 15, 2014, and is effective June 14.
The new legislation was prompted by a 2013 decision in which a federal court dismissed an unpaid intern’s hostile work environment sexual harassment/hostile work environment claim under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), holding the unpaid intern was not an “employee” protected by the NYCHRL.
A covered intern is “an individual who performs work for an employer on a temporary basis whose work: (a) provides training or supplements training given in an educational environment such that the employability of the individual performing the work may be enhanced; (b) provides experience for the benefit of the individual performing the work; and (c) is performed under the close supervision of existing staff. The term shall include such individuals without regard to whether the employer pays them a salary or wage.”
New York City employers now must ensure that all policies and procedures prohibiting discrimination apply in full to interns, regardless of whether they are paid or unpaid. Because claims now can be brought under the NYCHRL, potential remedies for violations are extreme and include unlimited compensatory damages, unlimited punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. The City’s Human Rights Law accords protections against employment discrimination on the basis of:
- National origin;
- Alienage or citizenship status;
- Gender (including gender identity and sexual harassment);
- Sexual orientation;
- Disability (including pregnancy);
- Marital status and partnership status;
- Arrest or conviction record;
- Status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses; and
- Unemployment status.