New bill introduced in the New York Senate to extend state anti-discrimination law to interns

Senator Liz Krueger introduced a bill in the New York Senate to amend the executive law, in relation to providing certain civil rights protections for interns. The new legislation would extend the protections of the state anti-discrimination law to interns, including protection against discriminatory practices and sexual harassment and whistleblower protections.

More specifically, if the bill is passed, it would be an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to: “a. refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment an intern or to discriminate against such individual in terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the intern’s age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, religion, predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, or domestic violence victim status; b. discriminate against an intern in receiving, classifying, disposing or otherwise acting upon applications for internships because of the individual’s age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, religion, predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, or domestic violence victim status;”

The bill also insists that it is unlawful to discriminate against pregnant interns by compelling them to take a leave of absence, unless pregnancy prevents the intern from performing its duties.

Finally, the bill addresses the need to protect interns against sexual harassment. The bill echoes a sexual harassment claim filed by an unpaid intern against a Chinese satellite news company a few weeks ago. Lihuan Wang v. Phoenix Satellite TV US, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143627 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 3, 2013). The court ruled that unpaid interns aren’t employees under local human rights law and therefore the intern lacked standing to sue for sexual harassment. Courts have also said that unpaid interns aren’t covered by federal civil rights law. The new legislation would protect unpaid interns against sexual harassment and would state that : “it shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to: a.engage in unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to an intern when: (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of the intern’s employment; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by the intern is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the intern’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment; or b.subject an intern to unwelcome harassment based on age, sex, race, creed, color, sexual orientation, military status, disability, predis- posing genetic characteristics, marital status, domestic violence victim status, religion or national origin, where such harassment has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the intern’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”

If the legislation is enacted, New York would join Oregon in protecting unpaid interns from discrimination and harassment under state civil rights law.

If you believe your rights as an unpaid interns have been breached in some way, please contact the Harman Law Firm, LLP.