United States District Judge P. Kevin Castel recently ruled that the New York City Human Rights Law, amended in 2005 to provide broader protections, does not cover those in unpaid roles such as unpaid interns. In Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US Inc. et al., case number 1:13-cv-00218, the plaintiff, Lihuan Wang, a former intern, brought a complaint against Phoenix Satellite Television US Inc. under the New York City Human Rights Law alleging, among other things, that she was unlawfully subjected to a hostile work environment because her supervisor made unwanted sexual advances. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.
In dismissing the hostile work environment claim, the court noted that under circuit law, unpaid workers are not considered employees under either Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or under the New York State Human Rights Law, and ultimately concluded that the city law worked the same way. The court noted that compensation is a threshold issue in determining the existence of an employment relationship under both Title VII and the New York State Human Rights Law. The court further held that the plain meaning of the New York City Human Rights Law, the case law, interpretations of analogous wording in Title VII and the New York State Human Rights Law, as well as the legislative history of the New York City Human Rights Law all confirmed that the protections of employees does not extend to unpaid interns.