Interns Sue P. Diddy’s Record Label
A former intern is suing Sean Combs/P. Diddy’s record label, alleging it violated federal and state labor laws by not paying her and other interns for the work that employees should have been doing.
Office Work, But No Training
Former intern Rashida Salaam filed a lawsuit on Aug. 20 in federal court in New York, seeking to represent a possible class of over 500 former interns against Bad Boy Entertainment Inc.
She alleges that for the last six years the label has misclassified interns as being exempt from making minimum wage in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state labor laws.
Salaam says that her duties included answering phones, scanning and filing documents, making deliveries, and performing other office tasks. The suit also alleges that the label failed to provide any academic or vocational training to the interns; instead it made them wrap gifts and run personal errands for paid employees.
The interns want Bad Boy to cough up the unpaid wages they say they are owed, plus interest.
Internships Fail the Test
The FLSA requires most employers to pay most employees the federal minimum wage – $7.25 as of today. There are exceptions, but for unpaid interns to be exempt, a six-part test must be met under current law.
“Generally an unpaid intern must be engaged in connection with a formal educational program,” notes Rosanna Sattler, a partner at Posternak Blankstein & Lund LLP in Boston.
Sattler says that in Bad Boy’s case, four of the six factors appear to have not been met:
- the internship was not similar to training that would be given in an educational environment
- it was not for the benefit of the intern
- the interns did not work under close supervision by existing staff, and
- the employer derived immediate advantage from the activities of the unpaid intern, and its operations were not impeded
Without the unpaid interns, Bad Boy would have needed to hire more paid staff or require existing employees to work extra hours, says Salaam’s suit.
“I think the chances are pretty good that they will prevail on the FLSA claims,” Sattler says of the interns.
The Bad Boy interns’ suit is the latest in a string of publicized legal actions by interns against employers. Gone are the days when a business could lure college students to work based on the promise of access to big wigs and “gaining experience,” and simply not pay them.
“The law has been on the books for years,” Sattler says of the FLSA. “However, given the economic problems employers face, they prefer to hire more young people without pay in order to save money. They do not understand that an internship requires supervision and learning.”
She says companies are either unaware of the law or choose to ignore the advice of their employment lawyers, who’ve been warning them for years about the pitfalls of hiring unpaid interns. “I also think the college students are more sophisticated and their parents may be more likely to look into the situation or know lawyers who will,” Sattler adds.
If you’re interested in going for an unpaid internship, she recommends, be aware of your rights and consider whether the job is related to what you are studying or to skills you hope to develop in your career.
And don’t be afraid to ask the company some questions. Sattler recommends inquiring about the academic or vocational training you would receive, what type of supervision is involved and which skills you can expect to learn.
You should also ask your school if it will approve or sponsor the internship and whether you can get credit for it, she says.