Calvin Klein and its parent company, PVH Corp. are the latest to be hit with allegations that they misclassified individuals performing entry level work as interns to avoid paying them. According to Rajwinder Kaur's lawsuit, which was filed this week in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, she interned for Calvin Klein in 2008 and her tasks included data entry, setting up for fashion shows, researching trends and checking merchandise in and out. She claims to have worked 28 to 30 hours each week without receiving either compensation or education or training. In addition to an array of damages, Kaur has asked the court to certify a class action lawsuit, allowing other Calvin Klein and PVH interns to join in the litigation. The complaint asserts that this class consists of more than 100 interns, who have been employed by PVH and Calvin Klein beginning in October 2008.
According to Kaur's complaint, the defendants’ unlawful conduct is willful and intentional and "is pursuant to a corporate policy or practice of minimizing labor costs by denying plaintiff and the putative class compensation in violation of [New York state Labor Law] and its implementing regulations."
This recent flurry of litigation from fashion industry interns may not be a coincidence at all. It appears to have been brought on by active efforts from two law firms to solicit ex-interns to file suits. According to Mallory Musallam, who interned for David Letterman from September to December 2008 and subsequently filed suit because she did not receive compensation, she was coerced into filing an unpaid internship lawsuit by the exact firms that are representing the plaintiff in this lawsuit, as well as those in the recently filed suits against Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta. After filing suit against Letterman in September, Musallam filed to have the lawsuit dismissed, and issued a formal apology to Letterman, claiming she was approached by a “beguiling legion of lawsuit-hungry attorneys,” who saw her "Late Show" internship listed on her LinkedIn page and contacted her. She claims they coerced her into filing the class action lawsuit. Moreover, Musallam stated in her letter to Letterman that the "inveigling suit squad" of lawyers assured her that her intern work was little more than indentured servitude, and she blamed her willingness to fold to the pressure to file suit as a result of being in a "weak, vulnerable time" and being "facing student debt." The firms deny such allegations.
Like Musallam, the plaintiff in the Calvin Klein case and those in the Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta cases, are being represented by attorneys at Virginia & Ambinder LLP and Leeds Brown Law PC. These attorneys are also representing the plaintiff in the ongoing unpaid internship lawsuit against New York-based brand Donna Karan.
Such activity on behalf of legal counsel in a class action is not completely nonsensical. In such cases, the lawyers usually are paid from the fund recovered from the class, which is almost always a far larger sum of money than any of the individual plaintiffs receives. In a recent case against Ticketmaster, for instance, class members were given a $1.50 credit for each of the illegal transactions at issue, up to a total of 17 to be applied toward future purchases. The attorneys, on the other hand, walked away with up to $16.5 million. Thus, it is most often in the best interest of the lawyers in such cases to find plaintiffs to file suit. More to come …