An east coast court recently ruled that unpaid interns are technically not considered employees. Therefore, they have no standing to sue for sexual harassment under that state's law. Every state, including Texas, has unpaid interns who spend hundreds of hours working for a company. Just because they receive no monetary compensation for their work, does that mean they should have to put up with sexual harassment?
A then 22-year-old woman claims she filed the lawsuit after having been subjected to unwanted advances from an employee at the company for which she was an unpaid intern. Now 26, the woman says that she and other female interns were lured to a bureau chief's hotel room -- supposedly to discuss business. Once there, the man-made inappropriate advances that included touching her buttocks and kissing her.
After her allegations were investigated by the company for which she was interning, she was terminated from her position. The woman has since moved back to her home country of China. At present, only the state of Oregon has protections against sexual harassment on the job for unpaid interns.
However, that does not mean that an unpaid intern should have to put up with sexual harassment here in Texas. It may take some time for the laws to change, but that does not mean that victims of unwanted sexual advances, touching or any other lewd behavior shouldn't fight for their rights simply because they are unpaid. Many unpaid interns may shy away from even attempting to file a lawsuit against an employer that takes advantage of them, but the law isn't going to change without people coming forward to fight for their rights. Many of the protections that paid employees now receive were gained through people continuing to fight for those rights despite the odds.
Source: USA Today, NY district judge rules unpaid interns aren't protected from sexual harassment, Emily Atteberry, Oct. 9, 2013