Unpaid Intern Can’t Bring Sexual Harassment Claim Against Supervisor; Not Considered Employee

The intern alleging harassment, Lihuan Wang, filed a suit against Phoenix in January. 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.

Here’s another terrible thing about being an unpaid intern (besides, you know, the whole unpaid part): Since unpaid interns aren’t considered employees, Lihuan Wang cannot bring a sexual harassment claim against her former supervisor under the New York City Human Rights Law. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the New York City Council “has had several opportunities to amend the law to protect unpaid interns but has declined to do so.” Phoenix, the media company Wang worked for as an unpaid intern, says that their New York bureau chief Liu Zhengzhu no longer works for them, but says they haven’t talked to him about any of the allegations.

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