Unpaid Intern Not Protected From Sexual Harassment, Ruled Not An “Employee”

With more and more hopeful 20-somethings turning to unpaid internships, many conflicting opinions have risen concerning these internships. One argument is that unpaid internships provide experience, networking opportunities and the possibility of a job in the future. The downside? No pay, no benefits and apparently no protection from sexual harassment.

Lihuan Wang was a graduate student at Syracuse University when she interned in the New York bureau of Phoenix Satellite Television in 2009. Last week, a New York federal district court ruled that she could not bring a sexual harassment claim under New York human rights laws because of her position as an unpaid intern. They argued that because the 26-year-old was not getting paid, she was not considered an employee and was not covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Allegedly, the station’s Washington D.C. bureau chief Zhengzhu Liu committed his indecent actions just two weeks after Wang began her internship at the Chinese-language media company’s New York office.

Wang claims that Liu asked her to accompany him to his hotel room while he dropped some things off. During that time, he would discuss her performance as well as a possible job opportunity. Businessweek reports the events upon arriving at the hotel:

In the hotel room, she alleges, Liu took off his jacket, untied his tie, and threw his arms around her, exclaiming, “Why are you so beautiful?” She claims Liu held her for about five seconds, tried to kiss her, and squeezed her buttocks. According to the complaint, Wang pushed Liu away and left the room, and when she later asked about job opportunities, Liu invited her to Atlantic City.

According to CNN, Wang has returned to China and Liu has been fired after the company investigated the allegations.

So are the vulnerable situations worth it? Clearly, the lack of pay is not the only issue stacking up against unpaid internships.

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