Elizabeth Wagoner, the Manhattan attorney who is crusading on behalf of interns with glamorous positions that don't pay, has sued the Charlie Rose show in the latest lawsuit alleging wage law violations. The unpaid internship system is changing, but not fast enough. And as Wagoner, who has previously filed lawsuits on behalf of a former Harper's Bazaar intern and former Black Swan interns suing Fox Searchlight, told The New York Times Magazine's Ethicist columnist Ariel Kaminer this past week, the best way to change it is not for ambitious young people to turn down opportunities, but to sue employers after for not following the law. "If you have your heart set on a career in an intern-dependent field, it would be unreasonable to expect you to abandon that hope just because the people currently in charge refuse to do what’s right," Wagoner told Kaminer. Her advice to unpaid interns, as Kaminer put it: "Wagoner suggests taking the internship and filing a lawsuit."
The plaintiff in the Charlie Rose lawsuit is Lucy Bickerton. As The New York Times's Steven Greeenhouse reports, her suit says, "Ms. Bickerton, a 2008 graduate of Wesleyan University, had various responsibilities at the show, including providing background research for Mr. Rose about interview guests, assembling press packets, escorting guests through the studio, breaking down the interview set after daily filming and cleaning up the green room." Wagoner and the other attorneys representing Bickerton are seeking to add all other unpaid interns under a class action. Rose's attorney told Greenhouse, "We are confident that Charlie Rose Inc.’s employment practices are appropriate.”
Since bad press and the possibility of lawsuits haven't changed the system enough, Wagoner is helping unhappy (and uncompensated) former interns take the legal route. "Systematic violation of federal and state laws that coverage internships appears all too common at some media companies," Wagoner told Greenhouse. "More and more unpaid interns are standing up for their right to earn a wage for their work," she said. Even if the suit agains Charlie Rose takes forever and goes nowhere, at the very least, it will scare others in the media and entertainment industries. It looks like that's what has happened at Condé Nast. (Participants in the Atlantic Media Company's Fellowship Program are paid.) Adam Klein, another one of Bickerton’s lawyers, told Greenhouse, "This lawsuit should send a clear message to employers that the practice of classifying employees as interns to avoid paying wages runs afoul of federal and state wage and hour laws,"
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