The Los Angeles Clippers now face a wage class action brought by a former intern claiming the Clippers engaged in an illegal scheme to reduce labor costs by misclassifying employees as unpaid interns, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and California Labor Law.
Plaintiffs allege that the team required interns to perform the work of paid employees without any compensation. Named plaintiff Frank Cooper was a fan relations intern with the Clippers for less than two months in 2012. While the interns did not have set schedules, they worked between 40 to 50 hours a week. During that time, Cooper claims he performed tasks similar to those performed by paid employees, such as supervising autograph sessions with players, office duties including the distribution of gifts and prizes and mailing of season tickets, and organizing basketball clinics for fans and camps for children. The suit claims that absent the work performed by the interns, the team would have been forced to require current staff to work longer hours or hire additional employees.
Cooper is currently seeking certification of FLSA and California Labor Law subclasses of interns who were unpaid for work performed between September 2012 and the present. Cooper seeks unpaid minimum wages, damages, restitution and an accounting of the Clippers’ records for the liability period.
This is the second employment suit brought against the Clippers this month, as it follows a case brought by a former female assistant to team owner Donald Sterling alleging that the Clippers withheld pay and terminated her for complaining of racist remarks and refusing to perform sex acts.
The treatment and protection of interns in the workplace is currently a hot topic. As we mentioned in our April newsletter, New York employers should also be mindful of the new legislation granting greater employment protections for interns passed by the New York City Council on March 26, 2014. Given the growing trend, employers should anticipate interns to be entitled to essentially the same protections available to regular employees, and should review their discrimination and retaliation policies to reflect the new requirements. Employers should also review their internship programs to ensure that interns are properly classified and performing work deemed to be for their training, development and benefit – rather than primarily for the benefit of the organization. Kelley Drye can help ensure your internship programs are not exposing your organizations to legal liability.