• Fri, Jul 6 2012

I Don’t Know Whether I Love Or Hate The Fashion Intern Suing Everyone

Miranda Priestly

Miranda Priestly Hates Her!

Being a fashion intern sounds like a really horrible job. In fact, I can say with no hesitations that I would never agree to being an unpaid intern in the fashion business. I don’t care if you promised me a pile of riches and a designer wardrobe for the rest of my life when I was done, I wouldn’t last more than a day or two. I think the business structure that relies on unpaid interns to do the work that should be given to paid employees is dishonest. Therefore, I don’t choose to take part in that business.

So, you would think that I would sympathize with crusading young intern Xuedan Wang, who first sued Hearst Corporation in February and is now taking on Dana Lorenz‘s Fenton Fallon jewelry company. In both lawsuits, Wang claims that she did the work of a paid employee, but received no compensation because she was classified as an intern. So instead of just ignoring the problem like I choose to, this young woman is challenging the industry to change a practice that she finds unfair. I kind of love her for that.

That being said, I’m not a very litigious person. I don’t think lawsuits are the answer to everything. I don’t think they’re appropriate to deal with every complaint. And legal action sometimes doesn’t work as a political statement, because it’s so often brushed aside as being fueled by greed. The argument can be made – and I’m sure that it will be – that Xuedan Wang knew exactly what she was signing up for when she agreed to take the job. And now, for a second time, she’s suing a company for behaving the same way that every other business in the fashion industry does.

There are ways to promote a cause without going to the courts and demanding a payout. The question of fairness with unpaid internships is one that’s hotly debated right now. And if Wang really believed that the system was flawed, why did she sign up for it all over again? Why would she take on another unpaid internship? It now seems like she’s just hoping to exploit a new employer. Maybe she wants a book deal, because I can’t imagine anyone hiring her now. I don’t know where the next career step would be.

I agree that the system of unpaid internships needs to be looked at. I think companies that use these college kids like workhorses need to be held accountable. There’s only so much “work experience” you get from doing menial labor, no matter what company it’s for. So I have to say that I appreciate this young woman standing up for her rights and bringing the conversation back to the forefront of the news cycle.

And then there’s this part of me that says, “She knew! She knew what she was doing!” This woman signed up for another unpaid internship after suing her first one for compensation. Then, just a few months later, she’s back in the courtroom. Did her lawyer have a two-for-one special going? That seems pretty skeazy to me. And taking advantage of these companies, making them look like the victims, definitely isn’t helping fix the problem of unpaid internships.

What do you think? Do you love or hate the intern making fashion companies everywhere fear the legal prowess of their coffee fetchers and schedule organizers?

(Photo: WENN)

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  • D.

    When I think of an internship, what comes to mind is a massive amount of work with no pay. I’m not saying the companies being sued weren’t in the wrong, but internships are meant to show dedication. You’re going to prove that you can work, you’ve already proven you’re an awesome student. It takes a bright and ambitious individual to gain most internships. Some are not used to being treated like a subordinate and doing the work they believe they’ve been working their whole lives to not have to do. Then again, I’m not speaking from experience. I chose to dedicate myself to volunteer organizations to gain experience, networking, and knowledge about the fields I want to work in. What do I do? A lot of work that a paid employee could do, but I do it without pay. I’m not going to sue anybody because I knew what I was signing up for.

  • Elizabeth

    I interned for several companies, including three in fashion. Recently, someone debating internships online linked to the Department of Labor’s unpaid internship rules (http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm) and I realized that most of my internships were wildly illegal.

  • Eileen

    A dude I know is doing a summer internship for a theatre company. He works 16 hour days, seven days a week, and has had one day off so far. He’s not just working full-time for no money; he’s working more than full-time for less than no money (room and board is on him). Did he know what he was getting into? Sure. Is he getting great experience? Definitely. Is it fair or right that anyone should have to work a schedule that you couldn’t legally pay someone to work – for no money? Absolutely not. The Labor Department has rules about unpaid internships, and they don’t get followed. This sucks for the rich kids who do them. It sucks more for the poor kids who can’t afford to and thus don’t get the advantages.

    I support anyone who’s bringing this system down.

  • BK

    This is so dumb. Interning is all about working your ass off and not getting paid for it – everyone has to pay their dues. You can’t launch a lawsuit just because you’re unhappy.

  • mm

    My first internship was paid ($10 an hour, full time) the summer before I was a senior in high school. I think it had something to do with the fact that my dad’s friend was the CEO….but my next internship (summer after sophomore year of college) was unpaid for the first 6 months and a HELL of a lot of work. I busted my ass and ended up getting promoted to “employee” for $500 A MONTH, which was bullshit. Then, I got a great job making many times what I made at my previous job, all because I had worked so hard at my bs internship -> job. Did they take complete and utter advantage of me? Yes. But am I glad I did it? Yes, because at barely 21 years old I have a job that people go to college for and I’ll probably never have to intern again. It’s a really sucky system but if you work it correctly you gain experience that will absolutely set you up to be able to get a good job right out of (or before you’re even done with) college. I was lucky enough to have parents who could support me through the internship, but I do think it needs to be regulated so that other people have the opportunity.

    • mm

      Clarification- when I say a job that people go to college for, it’s because I still have 2 years left of college and I have a better job than my friends who have graduated from the top schools in the state.