The attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the pending lawsuits against Gucci, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, and Donna Karan have added yet another name to their list of targets: Kenneth Cole. The New York-based brand has been slapped with a wage and labor class action lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court by former intern, Oluseyl Shay Awogbile. According to Awogbile's complaint, since 2008, Kenneth Cole has maintained a policy misclassifying its entry level employees as interns, thereby, exempting them from minimum wage. It alleges that Awogbile, who was named a runner-up in Kenneth Cole's Project Catwalk contest and thus, was awarded the opportunity to intern with Kenneth Cole, spent 20 to 30 hours a week "assisting design work, sketching, inspecting sample items, organizing production aspects, answering phones, running errands, and administrative tasks." According to Awogbile's LinkedIn page, he "designed patterns for footwear uppers and constructions; made technical footwear drawings, color ways; put technical packages together for the Men’s New York and Men’s Reaction footwear design team, as well as for the Women’s New York footwear design team."
The complaint further states that Kenneth Cole provided Awogbile, who is currently working as a freelance design consultant, with "$10 per day for travel expenses and lunch" but did not provide "academic or vocational training." Kenneth Cole's "unlawful conduct has caused significant damages to [Awogbile] and the putative class," which he estimates includes over 50 other individuals. As a result, he filed suit "for himself, and on behalf of all similarly situated employees, all compensation, including minimum wages, which they were deprived of, plus interest, attorneys’ fees, and costs."
As we have told you in the past, this recent flurry of litigation from fashion industry interns may not be a coincidence at all. It appears to have been brought on by aggressive efforts from these 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. 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 (obviously).