Diana Wang, the former Harper’s Bazaar intern who filed a class action lawsuit against Hearst for unpaid wages, just got served with some bad news: a judge ruled Wednesday that Wang and her fellow plaintiffs can no longer pursue the lawsuit as a class action case.
U.S. District Judge Harold Baer said in a ruling that the case didn’t meet the criteria set out by previous landmark cases to qualify as a class action lawsuit, Reuters is reporting. According to the ruling, the case didn’t meet the standards of “commonality.” “To transform a simple lawsuit between a plaintiff and a defendant into a class action, the proposed lead plaintiff has to demonstrate that the case is more than just their beef against the defendant, but one instance of a common legal problem,” Joe Patrice, our colleague over at our sister site Above the Law explained. And that didn’t happen in this case.
“Here, while a close question, the commonality requirement is not satisfied because plaintiffs cannot show anything more than a uniform policy of unpaid internship,” Baer wrote in his ruling. Basically this means that the only thing the plaintiffs had in common was that they worked for Hearst in an unpaid capacity–their jobs, the specific magazines they worked for, and their responsibilities were all different. “To mix a metaphor, while half a loaf is better than none, plaintiffs’ argument here just doesn’t cut the mustard,” Baer concluded (hilariously).
Wang and her fellow plaintiffs are welcome to pursue lawsuits against Hearst individually, but some legal experts don’t think attorneys are exactly going to be falling over themselves to take on the case. Since the plaintiffs are only suing for minimum wage, if they were to win their case, the payout by Hearst would be really small. “What lawyer is going to want to do work for that?” Richard Reibstein, an attorney not involved in the case, told Reuters. (So much for taking on a case on principle.)
When unpaid interns sued Charlie Rose’s production company for $250,000 in back wages, some in the industry were reportedly “scrambling” to change their intern operations. However, that case was settled out of court, so no legal precedent was set.
In light of this, it looks like unpaid interns wanting a paycheck still have a bit of an uphill battle on their hands.