The New York City Council voted unanimously yesterday to amend the City’s human rights law to allow unpaid interns to sue for discrimination and harassment.  The impetus for this change was a recent federal lawsuit in which an unpaid intern alleged that her supervisor sexually harassed her.  In October 2013, the court dismissed most of the complaint and ruled that unpaid interns could not sue under City law because it applies only to “employees,” a term that does not include unpaid workers such as interns.   

The measure passed yesterday changes the scope of the law to extend coverage to unpaid interns.  It defines an “intern” as one who “perform[s] 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 bill, which is expected to be signed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, would allow previously uncovered workers to sue for discrimination based on their age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation, citizenship status or status as a victim of domestic violence, sex offense, or stalking.  The law applies only to the City human rights law and is not related to whether interns are entitled to minimum wage or overtime.