Remember that line from The Devil Wears Prada, the movie about a hapless, abused junior assistant at a VOGUE*-like fashion magazine?
While we haven’t heard any reports of young magazine assistants committing murder to get ahead, each year thousands of eager college students and graduates do give up compensation to get a job, working in unpaid internships at magazine publishers. They forego paychecks in return for on-the-job learning and professional opportunities.
But who really benefits? We may soon find out.
Xuedan Wang, a former Hearst intern, now has filed a lawsuit against the publisher for back wages and overtime, alleging Hearst violated wage and hour laws. Moreover, Wang and her law firm are looking to make this a class-action suit.
A strategic communications graduate at the time, Wang claims she routinely worked 40 to 55 hours a week at HARPER’S BAZAAR*, most of it doing menial or administrative tasks like coordinating sample pick-ups and deliveries, processing reimbursement requests and maintaining records.
Hearst may have run afoul of labor laws in a few ways, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which outlines criteria for unpaid internships:
* Hearst directly benefited from Wang’s work, instead of the other way around.
* The tasks she handled were essential to the company, and a paid worker would have had to do them if Wang had not.
* The work was not conducted like training in an educational environment, with mentors or supervisors providing constant guidance.
Some are beginning to question if publishers are offering priceless experience to aspiring professionals, or whether free labor from unpaid internships is now built into the magazine industry’s business model.