Unpaid Intern Not a Real Employee, Can't Sue for Sexual HarassmentS

As if being an unpaid intern wasn't bad enough, now a federal judge in New York has ruled that individuals who don't get paid for their work aren't protected by the New York City Human Rights Law and therefore can't bring a sexual harassment claim against their employers.

Bloomberg Businessweek lays out the sordid incident that resulted in the case of Lihuan Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US:

The intern alleging harassment, Lihuan Wang, filed a suit against Phoenix in January. According to the complaint, in early 2010, two weeks after Wang started working at the Chinese-language media company’s New York office, her supervisor and bureau chief, Liu Zhengzhu, invited her and several co-workers to lunch. Wang claims Liu asked her to stay after the meal to discuss her work performance and then asked her to accompany him to his hotel so he could drop off a few things. 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.

Judge [Kevin] Castel of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled last week that Wang did not quality for protection under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act nor the city's Human Rights Law because the "absence of remuneration" meant the "essential condition to the existence of an employer-employee relationship" was missing.

Phoenix, a Chinese-language media company, denies engaging in discriminatory activity, and its attorney, M. Carter DeLorme, says Liu has left the company.

DeLorme claims he never discussed Wang's allegations with Liu.

Wang has a second suit pending — this one for failure to hire. She claims she was denied a job at Phoenix because she refused Liu's advances.

[photo via Shutterstock]