Another day, another unpaid internship lawsuit in the fashion industry. Up this time: Ralph Lauren Corp., which was slapped with a proposed class action lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York late last week by former intern, Nadine Craparotta. You likely know the drill by now. According to the lawsuit, Ralph Lauren illegally misclassified an array of entry-level employees as interns, thereby failing to pay minimum wage compensation in violation of a number of provisions of the New York Labor Law and New York Codes, Rules and Regulations. As a result, the company is said to have damaged a large pool of individuals similarly situated to Craparotta. Like many of the previous complaints, filed by the same two law firms (yes, we have a bit of a pattern here), Ralph Lauren is accused of intentionally and systematically violating state labor laws for its own benefit and at the disadvantage of its interns, who claim they were not paid or provided with educational benefits or training.
According to her complaint, Craparotta, who was a production intern for the brand's Blue Label Knits & Sweaters, claims she worked for Ralph Lauren for 3 months beginning in June 2010. She allegedly worked about 24 hours per week, and was tasked with duties that included preparing samples for fit meetings, updating work-in-progress reports, reviewing email correspondence to determine whether orders are meeting their deadlines, creating new Universal Product Codes for items and other related duties.
As we have told you in the past, Virginia & Ambinder LLP and Leeds Brown Law PC are racking up quite a client base. In addition to serving as the plaintiff's legal counsel in the case at hand, the two firms are representing interns in the pending cases against Lacoste, Zac Posen, Burberry, Gucci, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Coach, and Donna Karan (among others, such as one against publishing giant Simon & Schuster and another against CBS, which was also filed late last week). The frequency with which cases have been filed by these two law firms and some interesting procedural history, suggests that these firms may be trolling for potential plaintiffs to help them rake in large settlements from the design houses at issue.
If we take a step back for just a moment, I think we can all agree that there is value to be derived from internships. We can also likely agree that companies that utilize the labor of interns should absolutely be held to a standard in order to ensure that interns receive the benefits of a proper internship (namely, educational benefits, on the job training, etc.), such as the guidelines set forth by the Department of Labor. With this in mind, however, I do also wonder at what point do we also call into question the practices of law firms and lawyers who appear to targeting unpaid interns to file lawsuits of questionable merits? There must be a better way of achieving the benefits that are supposed to come from internships, especially if companies respond to such threats of impending litigation by refusing to take interns, as Conde Nast did on the heels of being sued (all of the Condé Nast-owned publications stopped accepting interns after Lauren Ballinger, an intern at W in 2009, and Matthew Leib, who worked at The New Yorker in 2009 and 2010, filed suit against the publishing giant in 2013) and Chanel did before it could be sued. Thoughts?