Bosses in NYC Can Sexually Harass Unpaid Interns, Judge Rules

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New York City Human Rights Law, which protects employees from sexual harassment, does not apply to unpaid interns, a Manhattan federal court judge ruled this month, because they do not receive "significant remuneration" in the form of compensation or benefits. "Protection of employees does not extend to unpaid interns," wrote Judge Kevin Castel in his decision, blaming the NYC City Council for failing to amend the law to cover interns. Whoever's fault it is, one young woman loses.

Lihuan Wang was 22 years old when she worked for no money at the New York City office of the Chinese broadcasting company Phoenix Satellite Television, where she claimed her supervisor groped her and made sexual advances. Businessweek has the gross details:

According to the complaint, in early 2010, two weeks after Wang started working at the Chinese-language media company’s New York office, her supervisor and bureau chief, Liu Zhengzhu, invited her and several co-workers to lunch. Wang claims Liu asked her to stay after the meal to discuss her work performance and then asked her to accompany him to his hotel so he could drop off a few things. In the hotel room, she alleges, Liu took off his jacket, untied his tie, and threw his arms around her, exclaiming, “Why are you so beautiful?” She claims Liu held her for about five seconds, tried to kiss her, and squeezed her buttocks. According to the complaint, Wang pushed Liu away and left the room, and when she later asked about job opportunities, Liu invited her to Atlantic City.

Wang moved back to China, while Liu, the supervisor, was fired last year. "This is terrible," her lawyer, Lynne Bernabei, said. "There is no logical reason to allow an intern who is young and vulnerable to be sexually harassed." Now that there's a face to the injustice, Democratic City Councilwoman Gale Brewer has vowed to close the legal loophole. In the meantime, Wang's legal team hopes to move the case to Washington, D.C., where Liu has already faced similar sexual harassment suits.