Conde Nast may have just officially settled its unpaid internship lawsuit, but Gucci was just slapped with one. The Florence-based design house has been named in a wage and labor violations lawsuit brought by former intern, Lindsey Huggins. According to her lawsuit, which was filed in New York State Supreme Court, Huggins interned at Gucci’s 5th Avenue store for 6 months in 2008, during which time she worked 40 hours a week, answering phones, assisting customers in locating and purchasing merchandise, performing accounting support, maintaining daily excel sheets on sales, and assisting her manager in re-pricing merchandise.
She claims that she did not receive educational benefits or training as a result of her internship with the fashion house and that over the past six years, Gucci has been improperly classifying entry level employees and interns, thereby exempting them from compensation. Huggins, who currently serves as a Fashion Coordinator for RedSprinkle DC, a boutique consulting firm that caters to start-up and established businesses in the beauty and fashion industries, filed her lawsuit on Tuesday as a proposed class action, in hopes of allowing other similarly situated interns to join in her suit. And there’s more to it than that.
Unsurprisingly, Huggins is being represented by attorneys at Virginia & Ambinder LLP and Leeds Brown Law PC, the same as those representing the interns in the recently filed lawsuits against Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta. 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).
As we have told you in the past, such litigation-hungry activity on behalf of legal counsel in a class action (while questionable) is not completely nonsensical. In such class action lawsuits, the lawyers are almost always paid a percentage of the fund recovered from the class, which is a far larger sum of money than any of the individual plaintiffs receive. For instance, the former intern plaintiffs in the Conde Nast settlement each received between $700 and $1000 dollars, whereas the attorneys reportedly recovered roughly 30% of the total, which was $5.8 million. More to come …