The number of former fashion interns filing lawsuits is increasing quite a bit as of late, and we can add two more brands to the list: Lacoste (by way of its licensee, Devanlay, Inc.) and Zac Posen. Both lawsuits were filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York this week by the same two firms that are responsible for the pending lawsuits against Burberry, Gucci, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Coach, and Donna Karan. The claims at issue in the Lacoste and Zac Posen cases do not differ much from those previously listed, namely, failure to pay minimum wage compensation in violation of a number of provisions of New York Labor Law and New York Codes, Rules and Regulations. In the Lacoste and Zac Posen cases, the plaintiffs are alleging that both companies have systemically misclassified entry level employees as interns to avoid paying them minimum wage, and are seeking unpaid wages plus interest, damages, and attorneys fees.
As for the individual lawsuits: Allam Qayyem alleges that he worked as an accounting intern for Lacoste's licensee for four months beginning in September 2012. According to his complaint, he worked Monday through Friday for a total of 20-25 hours per week and was tasked with "researching tax records, scanning and filing documents, preparing spreadsheets, running errands, and other similar duties undertaken to for the benefit of Devanlay's operations."
Qayyem, who, according to his LinkedIn profile is currently employed as a Sample CoE Analyst at Pfizer, further alleges that "Devanlay has derived a significant benefit from the work [he and roughly 50 other former interns] performed" and Devanlay failed to provide any "academic or vocational training" in return, thereby causing him and others to endure "significant damages."
In the lawsuit against New York-based designer, Zac Posen, former intern Kevin Shahroozi alleges that he was "employed by Posen from March through July 2013," typically working 3 days per week, for approximately 21 hours a week. He "performed various tasks, including, but not limited to, sketching, cutting patterns, organizing fabrics, sewing, testing fabrics, researching in books and magazines, photocopying, and running errands." Much like in Qayyem's suit, Shahroozi claims that the tasks he and the other interns performed "provided an immediate advantage to Posen" and that Posen "derived a significant benefit from the work performed." Shahroozi, who is a menswear design graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, claims in his complaint that Posen "would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had [Shahroozi] and other members of the putative class not performed work for him."
These lawsuits mark the seventh and eighth ones that have been filed against New York-based fashion brands, or the New York-based arms of international brands, by former interns over the past several months. (Other fashion suits, such as the ones filed against Vogue publisher Conde Nast and Heart, put the industry on alert when they were filed a few years ago). Earlier this week, Lysandra Whitlow filed a labor and wage suit against Burberry in New York Supreme Court, alleging that the company is operating in violation of New York state labor law. Given the frequency with which Virginia & Ambinder LLP and Leeds Brown Law PC (the two law firms representing the plaintiffs in all of these recent lawsuits) have been able to attract former fashion interns who are willing to file lawsuits, I assume we will be seeing quite a few more in the near future.
One defendant we will not be seeing: Chanel. The US-based arm of the Parisian design house has stopped taking interns altogether as a result of the increase in intern-related litigation. More to come …