Mary-Kate, Ashley Olsen Sued by Former Unpaid Intern

A former intern for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Dualstar Entertainment is claiming she worked 50-hour weeks in connection with their high end collection, The Row, without pay or college credit. According to plaintiff Shahista Lalani’s complaint, which was filed this week in New York Supreme Court, the Parsons graduate worked for the 29-year old twins for four months in 2012, and says she and her fellow interns performed the same work as "some full-time employees." Such tasks consisted of photocopying, sewing, cleaning, and running personal errands, including carrying “like 50 pounds worth of trench coats” in 100-degree weather and “sweating to death.” 

Lalani, who lists herself as "Head Intern for The Row, LLC / Dualstar Entertainment Group" on her LinkedIn page, further claims she was hospitalized for dehydration because of the job’s demands. In connection therewith, she has filed a proposed class action, seeking to join at least 40 other unpaid Olsen interns and has asked the court for damages, including minimum wage and overtime. She alleges that Dualstar has systematically misclassified entry level employees as minimum wage-exempt interns in violation of New York Labor Law. In lieu of providing compensation, Dualstar allegedly failed to provide Lalani and other similarly situated interns with work that furthered their skills or provided them any academic benefit, as required by both state and federal employment law in connection with unpaid internships.

In order for a so-called internship qualify as such and be exempt from minimum wage requirements, it must meet the standards set out by the Department of Labor. These factors include:

1) The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2) The internship is for the benefit of the intern;

3) The intern works under close staff supervision and does not displace regular employees;

4) The employer derives no immediate advantage from and may in fact be impeded by the intern;

5) The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job after the internship; and

6) The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.

If these six factors are not met in their entirety, an intern is deemed to be an employee in accordance with the Department of Labor, and must be paid at least minimum wage. [It is worth noting that on July 8, 2015 in connection with the Glatt et al. v. Fox Searchlight Pictures case, the Second Circuit vacated a Federal District Court’s 2013 ruling that employers must derive “no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.” Moreover, the court promulgated an entirely new set of legal rules based on a so-called “primary beneficiary test,” and raised the bar required to certify a class of workers.]

New York state law, however, implements a strict eleven-factor test, which extends to the internship screening process, internship agreement specifics, and other factors. The additional requirements set forth by New York state include:

1) Interns be notified in writing that they will not receive any wages and are not considered employees for minimum wage purposes.

2) Any clinical training is performed under the supervision and direction of people who are experienced in the activity.

3) The interns do not receive employee benefits.

4) The training is general and qualifies interns to work in any similar businesses in the industry.

5) Advertisements, postings, or solicitations for the internship program clearly discusses the educational benefits rather than employment, although employers may indicate that qualified graduates may be considered for employment.

As for whether these factors were met in the case at hand is up for the court to decide, but it is certainly worth noting that according to Lalani's website, she learned quite a bit from her time at The Row. She notes in her bio, "Interning with Zac Posen as well as The Row greatly impacted her knowledge about the local garment district and ethical manufacturing processes as well as mastering care and quality in design."

The Olsens are the latest designers to be targeted in an ever-growing pool of unpaid internship lawsuits, all being filed by two New York-based law firms. The attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. and Virginia & Ambinder, LLP are currently representing plaintiffs in cases against Gucci, Zac Posen, Lacoste, Calvin Klein, Burberry, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, and Donna Karan, among others. It is unclear at this time whether Lalani will also be joining the unpaid internship lawsuit that her lawyers filed against Zac Posen earlier this year. 

In an interview with Page Six, Lalani elaborated on her "horrible" experience, saying she would often receive "e-mails at nighttime for the next day, like 10 p.m. at night" and that employees were generally "kind of mean" to interns. [Note: a recent tweet from Ms. Lalani's account reads: "A lot of late nights and early mornings are key."] She continued on the tell Page Six: "I’d see a lot of kids crying doing coffee runs, photocopying stuff." As for the mini-moguls themselves, Lalani said: “They’re really nice people. They were never mean to anyone. They’re business people.”

Dualstar's representative Annett Wolf has released a comment in response to Lalani's lawsuit, ssaying: "As an initial matter, Dualstar is an organization that is committed to treating all individuals fairly and in accordance with all applicable laws. The allegations in the complaint filed against Dualstar are groundless, and Dualstar will vigorously defend itself against plaintiff's claims in court, not before the media. Dualstar is confident that once the true facts of this case are revealed, the lawsuit will be dismissed in its entirety."

Given the extremely private nature of the twins and the way some of these unpaid internship lawsuits have played out in the past, this one will likely settle rather quickly. As such, this is probably going to be the first and last time we hear about it.