Southern District Cancels Class for Interns

Xeudan “Diana” Wang worked at Harper’s Bazaar, an upscale women’s fashion magazine, five days per week and eleven hours per day from August 2011 to December 2011. She was responsible for tracking down the thousands of purses, shoes, and pieces of jewelry lent to the magazine for photo shoots. She also had managerial and secretarial duties, supervising eight interns working beneath her and answering the accessories director’s phone. However, as an intern herself, she was not paid for any of this.

Wang decided to sue the Hearst Corporation, the mass media giant founded by William Randolph Hearst that owns Harper’s Bazaar, for allegedly violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. She claimed that her and the thousands of other interns that worked for Hearst Corporation owned magazines made up a class for the purposes of a class action. Wang enlisted the help of Outten & Golden, specialists in wage-and-hour and misclassification cases, who sought class action status for, “All persons who have worked as unpaid interns at Hearst Magazines in New York between February 1, 2006 and the date of final judgment in this matter.” Xuedan Wang v. Hearst Corp., 2012 WL 1903787, 5 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2013).

On May 8, Judge Harold Baer, Jr., a Federal District Judge in the Southern District of New York, denied Wang’s motion for class certification. Under the requirements of Rule 23(a-b), Wang had to show, inter alia, that there were questions of law or fact common to the class and that they predominate over any questions affecting only individual members. Judge Baer decided that the commonality and predominance requirements were not satisfied because Plaintiffs “could not show anything more than a uniform policy of unpaid internship”, and there was “no uniform policy among the magazines with respect to the contents of the internship, including interns’ duties, their training, and supervision.” Xuedan Wang, 2013 WL 1903787, at 7-8.

While the ruling does end the case as a class action, the plaintiffs are free to continue individually, said Richard Reibstein, an attorney at Pepper Hamilton not involved in the case. Wang will face an uphill battle because potential plaintiffs must now opt in to the litigation.