New York State Becomes The Fourth Jurisdiction To Protect Unpaid Interns From Employment Discrimination

By Mark S. Goldstein
Following New York City’s lead, New York State has now made it unlawful for employers to discriminate, harass, retaliate, or otherwise engage in unlawful employment practices against unpaid interns and applicants for internships. This makes the State just the fourth jurisdiction – joining Oregon, Washington, D.C., and NYC – to enact workplace protections for interns. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill – passed by the State Assembly and Senate in June and whose principal section is entitled “Unlawful discriminatory practices relating to interns” (the Act) – last Tuesday, and it is effective immediately. A copy of the Act is available here.
The Act amends the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and effectively undoes an October 2013 ruling by federal District Judge Kevin Castel declaring unpaid laborers ineligible to pursue claims of discrimination or harassment. Judge Castel had reasoned that, in the absence of compensation, a worker may not seek relief under, or enjoy the protections bestowed by, the anti-discrimination statutes.
In the wake of Judge Castel’s ruling, State Senator Liz Krueger introduced a bill last October placing interns on equal footing with employees for anti-discrimination purposes. As introduced and now signed into law, the Act defines the term “intern” as “a person who performs work for an employer for the purpose of training under the following circumstances”:

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