Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by a former intern, Shahista Lalani. In the suit, Lalani accused her employer—the Olsen twins-owned licensing and manufacturing entity, Dualstar Entertainment Group—of overworking her and other unpaid interns. The class action suit is alleging wage theft and demanding compensation for Lalani and more than 40 other interns.
Lalani claims that she would work as much as 50 hours every week without any pay or even college credit. She admits that she never really worked for the twins themselves, adding that when she did meet them they were “really nice people.” The person Lalani did work under was a head technical designer that was supposedly very demanding of the interns. Lalani claims that she was doing more than double the amount of any average internship. Most of the work was reportedly grunt work that nobody else wanted to do, such as running errands for paid employees, inputting numbers in spreadsheets, cleaning, moving heavy objects, sewing and cutting patterns.
Lalani claims that interns aren’t allowed to take breaks, either. She said in her lawsuit that “you’re like an employee, except you’re not getting paid. They’re kind of mean to you. Other interns have cried. I’d see a lot of kids crying doing coffee runs, photocopying stuff.”
When Does an Internship Break the Law?
The Department of Labor has certain limitations on what constitutes an unpaid intern versus a regular employee. For example, the unpaid intern must be getting some kind of training or education in the field. The primary purpose of the internship should be to allow the intern to see what the field is really like, and get some hands-on experience.
However, if the company seems to be getting more of a benefit, then the intern is likely misclassified and should be a regular employee. If an intern spends most of their time doing work for the company (i.e. running errands, cleaning, sewing, etc.) then the Dept. of Labor will likely view them as a regular employee rather than an intern who should be doing something more along the lines of “shadowing” current employees.
The rule of thumb with internships is that the benefit should be more in your favor than the employers’. If you believe that you have been taken advantage of during your internship, consult an employment attorney about possible compensation.
Atkerson Law – Dallas employment lawyer