Another Unpaid Intern Sues Former Employer

An intern from The Howard Stern Show has sued Sirius XM Radio, claiming that the unpaid internship program operated by the broadcaster is illegal under federal and state labor laws.

The case, filed by Melissa Tierney, is one of many brought against large media companies and others who frequently rely on unpaid internship programs as a labor pool. In Tierney’s case, she says she worked between 24 and 36 hours each week for The Howard Stern Show, all without pay. Tierney says she spent time running errands, getting coffee and snacks for guests, reviewing news clips and other menial tasks.

Though Tierney doesn’t complain about the work itself, she does make the argument that these functions were clearly those that Sirius would normally have had to pay workers to complete. She claims that Sirius would ordinarily have needed extra employees or been forced to pay existing employees to work longer hours had the company not relied on unpaid labor from interns.

Given this, Tierney is now asking a federal judge to certify her case as a class-action that will cover all Sirius unpaid interns dating back as far as 2008. Sirius has so far refused to comment on the case, saying only that its internships are limited to those who receive college credit.

While college credit may seem to negate the need for pay, labor laws now appear to indicate that isn’t the case. Instead, guidance issued by the Department of Labor shows that whether the internship results in college credit has no bearing on whether or not the workers should receive compensation. Instead, the issue boils down to who receives the benefit of the work.

If a company is the primary beneficiary of an intern’s work, meaning the intern is helping the company by engaging in tasks that the company would ordinarily need to pay others to do, then that internship should likely be paid. However, if the intern is the primary beneficiary and learns a great deal, then it is possible to have unpaid programs that are within the law.

Sirius now finds itself in the same situation that companies like Hearst, Conde Nast, Warner Music, Fox and others have been in and must now choose how to move forward. Many of the companies simply settle the lawsuits and then end their unpaid internship programs. Whether Sirius intends to follow suit remains to be seen.

Source: “Former Howard Stern Intern Sues Sirius XM Over Unpaid Internships,” by Dave Jamieson, published at on April 29, 2014.

Source: “Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal,” by Diane Stafford, published at on April 25, 2014.

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