UPDATE: We always love our reader comments, and we take your feedback very seriously — but today we had an unprecedented experience while browsing through our Disqus. Diana Wang herself — the former Hearst intern whose lawsuit was put in question by some documents reviewed by Buzzfeed — commented with further details on the case. Here's what she's got to say: "During my time as "Accessories Head Intern," I was tasked with orienting and training new interns, getting their signatures on Hearst confidentiality agreements, validating them through the HR office to receive their ID cards, and also validating the internship through the interns' college advisors. No editor had any involvement in these tasks.
When the accessories dept of 3 editors became desperate for adequate man labor to meet the daily logistics demand, I was tasked to put out a call for more interns on the usual boards, in October. We had 8 interns plus me at the height. Interns were hired if only they could work 3 days per week, though one of the two later-added interns could only work 2 days per week. She was hired nevertheless, because you know, 2/3 is still better than no free labor.
The interns regularly paid for metrocards and cab rides out of their own pocket, and I was both determined to and put in the extra time to process those expenses to make sure they were reimbursed. No editor lifted a finger nor expressed concern for this matter. On my final day at Harper's Bazaar, I racked over $40 in errand transportation costs, and submitted my receipts to Sam Broekema to be reimbursed. He never did, despite my follow-up request. Just a couple of facts for you, given your concern of how my claims hold up."
We never had any doubt that an unpaid internship can be an unfairly tough gig. Some of the points brought up in Buzzfeed documents suggested Diana was doing this out of spite or that her claims are negated by the fact that she did not fully comply with the rules for school credit. But from this first-hand account, it sounds like the problems go a lot deeper than Hearst's legal team is willing to admit. Over-working unpaid interns is unacceptable, but it's sadly standard practice for a lot of companies. But making them pay out of pocket for transportation expenses directly related to the job? We can't imagine any argument that could get around that pesky little detail.
Ms. Wang's cause is an extremely important issue facing young people today, and it's representative of the tenuous economic state of everyone in this nation, regardless of age. We're glad to know that she's pursuing justice for the right reasons, and we sincerely hope that the courts grant Diana a victory (not just monetary but symbolic) in this case that has the potential to change the lives and careers of thousands of current and future interns.
If you'd like to review the documents uncovered by Buzzfeed that originally put Wang's suit into question, click through to the next page.
In the age of no free lunches, the legality — and morality — of the unpaid internship is still under heavy debate. Former Harper's Bazaar intern Diana Wang's lawsuit isn't the first time the fashion industry has come under scrutiny for its demanding internships, but it certainly has brought some controversy to the issue. Various industry sources have already expressed doubt as to the validity of the suit, but Buzzfeed scoured court documents and found some new info that makes it look even more dubious.
First, the facts: Diana Wang was the head accessories intern at Harper's Bazaar last year and is currently pursuing a federal class-action lawsuit against Hearst, the magazine's parent company, along with a handful of other interns. She claims the publication violated labor laws regarding unpaid internships, which basically require that the company not rely on the intern in any way for necessary day-to-day tasks. If you think that sounds extreme, you're not alone — the best unpaid internships come from environments where the intern's work is important and highly valued. Still, in an ideal world, those interns would get some cash for their hard work (and that standard is actually already changing at many companies). But, does that automatically validate Wang's lawsuit? We're not so sure.
Buzzfeed reports that, according to documents from Hearst's legal team, Wang wasn't exactly the greatest intern in the first place — she reportedly gave wrong addresses to other interns making deliveries, and put the company at risk of losing products lent by various high-end accessory brands. Worse, she violated Hearst's policy that all interns must prove they are receiving school credit, pulling out of her post-grad program at Parson's after securing the internship and using instead a letter from her undergrad Ohio State. Hearst released the following statement to the media: “The plaintiff in this case, Xuedan Wang, misrepresented that she was a student, when in fact, she was not. The facts will show that this case is without merit."
There's no doubt that unpaid internships cater to young people from privileged backgrounds, especially in expensive locales like NYC, and too many internship programs offer little actual experience, other than proficiency at coffee runs in exchange for extremely long hours. If she was unhappy with her internship and wanted to draw attention to this relevant issue, we would be all for it — but suing seems extreme and possibly an ill-intentioned reaction. What do you think? Does this case have a point, or is toughing it out all part of getting your foot in the door in a competitive industry? (Buzzfeed)
Photo: Courtesy of Fox 2000 Pictures.