Why it matters

Applying the test set forth in Glatt v. Fox, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that a plaintiff was an intern and not an employee. A part-time student in the Master of Social Work program at Long Island University, Tracey Sandler was placed in an internship at Bayview Manor. After she complained about the quality of the internship and was dismissed, she sued for wages, claiming that she performed only “grunt work” and “secretarial tasks” and received no educational value for the yearlong experience. The district court sided with the defendant and found Sandler was an intern not entitled to payment under the statute. The federal appellate panel agreed. Applying the factors of the primary beneficiary test found in Glatt, the court said the plaintiff was an intern with no expectation of compensation who—contrary to her contentions—did receive educational value from the internship, as she was assigned to an individual client at Bayview and wrote weekly “process recordings” to describe her experience.

Detailed discussion

During the 2013–2014 academic year, Tracey Sandler was a part-time student in Long Island University’s Master of Social Work program. As part of the curriculum, the school placed her in an internship at Bayview Manor, a nursing and rehabilitation center. Sandler complained about the quality of the internship in February 2013 and was subsequently dismissed from Bayview and expelled from the school. Although she was later reinstated at LIU, she did not receive course credit for the internship.

Sandler filed suit, alleging violations of both New York Labor Law as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act. She claimed that she performed only “secretarial tasks” and “grunt work” such as filing, typing, photocopying, fetching food and wheeling patients, and received nearly nothing of educational value. Instead, Bayview Manor received the benefit of her services, which would have otherwise been performed by a paid employee, she said.

A district court dismissed the suit, and Sandler appealed the state law claims. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed dismissal of the action.

The panel applied the “primary beneficiary” test as well as the six non-exhaustive factors found in the circuit’s seminal decision in Glatt v. Fox to conclude that Sandler was an intern, not an employee entitled to compensation.

The first, second and third Glatt factors all weighed in favor of the defendants. Sandler had no expectation of compensation, as LIU required all students to complete an unpaid internship, the court noted, and her pleadings contradicted her allegation that she received nothing of educational value in the experience.

“[S]he was assigned one individual client at Bayview Manor and received one group assignment; she participated in integrated coursework at LIU in the form of a ‘field work class’; and her internship responsibilities included writing three ‘process recordings’ per week that described her experiences as a social work intern,” the court said. If she had completed the internship in a satisfactory manner, she would have received academic credit toward her degree, the panel added.

Other factors also weighed in favor of finding that Sandler was an intern. The duration of Sandler’s internship coincided with and was limited to LIU’s academic calendar, and both parties understood that the internship was conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion—satisfying the fourth, fifth and seventh Glatt factors.

As for the sixth factor—the extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern—the court called it “a wash.” Sandler was required to perform the work of a secretary or assistant “but that is not dispositive,” the court noted. “Glatt specifically acknowledges that employers could receive an immediate advantage from unpaid interns.”

Sandler argued that dismissal was inappropriate because discovery was necessary to flesh out the facts of the case, such as the extent to which Bayview Manor received benefits from its relationship with LIU and how much the defendant would have expended to have an employee perform her work.

“However, so long ‘as the relationship at issue has the qualities of a bona fide internship, providing educational or vocational benefits in a real-world setting, the intern can be the primary beneficiary of the relationship even if her activities provide direct benefit to the employer,’” the court wrote.

Having weighed and balanced the totality of the circumstances, the panel affirmed dismissal of the plaintiff’s suit.

To read the decision in Sandler v. Benden, click here.