An East Bay lawmaker says she’ll introduce a bill next month to protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment and other workplace discrimination.
“Interns should not have to give up their basic civil rights just because they are willing to forgo pay,” Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said in a news release. “Interns deserve the same legal protection against discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”
Skinner notes neither state nor federal law explicitly protects unpaid interns from sexual harassment.
The issue has come to the fore in part because a federal judge in New York ruled in October that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act – which protects employees from workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment – does not apply to unpaid interns because they’re not “employees.” That case involved a Syracuse University student who claimed she was sexually harassed, kissed and groped by a supervisor at her media company internship who later retaliated against her for rebuffing his sexual advances.
Here in California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act protects employees from sexual harassment, but does not specifically include unpaid interns; a recent state court decision held that FEHA does not apply to “volunteers.”
A 2008 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found 50 percent of graduating students held internships, up from 17 percent shown in a 1992 study by Northwestern University. And women are much more likely than men (77 percent to 23 percent) to hold unpaid internships, according to a 2012 survey of college students by Intern Bridge, a consulting firm that specializes in college recruiting.
“The recession has forced young people to rely on these unpaid positions to build resumes and contacts in an incredibly competitive job market,” Skinner said. “Employers owe them a safe and fair workplace.”