New York Fashion Week is the main event for many people in the fashion industry, from designers, to magazine reporters, to models. The week-long event involves weeks of preparation, planning, and
organization. Elite Model Management, Corp. is responsible for providing a large amount of the models needed to walk in the hundreds of fashion shows that take place during New York Fashion
Week. In the past, Elite has made use of unpaid interns hoping to get a foot in the door of the fashion industry to help prepare for the huge event. Now, Elite finds itself paying out $450,000 to former interns after the company and interns agreed to a settlement out of court.
Unpaid intern cases are nothing new to headlines as of late. We have previously discussed many of the unpaid intern cases on this blog, involving companies such as Fox Searchlight Pictures, Hearst, Sony, Gawker Media, Warner Music, NBCUniversal, the Charlie Rose Show, and more. The cases all surround the requirements for an unpaid internship set out by the Department of Labor (DOL). In each case, the court must decide whether the internship meets the criteria or whether the interns should have been classified as employees and compensated for their work.
The Elite intern case
According to the DOL, an unpaid intern may not simply perform tasks usually expected by a paid employee, but must receive some type of specialized training or education during the experience. As they helped prepare for fashion week, the unpaid interns for Elite stated they were expected to work over ten hours per day, and to furthermore be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in case Elite staff needed their assistance. Duties they regularly performed included:
· Organizing model portfolios;
· Preparing modeling books;
· Giving models rides to or from their hotels or homes;
· Escorting models to buy clothes or attend bookings;
· Organizing closets of accessories, clothes, and shoes for the models to use;
· Cleaning and organizing offices, wiping down surfaces;
· Running errands for Elite employees, buying coffee, picking up supplies.
Not only were the Elite interns not paid for any of their work, but the company also refused to reimburse them for any expenses that were paid for from their own pockets, such as taxicab and subway fares. The interns brought a lawsuit against Elite, claiming they should have been classified as paid employees and should be entitled to back pay. The court recently approved a settlement agreement between the interns and Elite, which will pay out $450,000 to be divided among the former intern plaintiffs. In addition, Elite will likely have to pay attorneys’ fees of $143,500.
If you are an unpaid intern or employee and believe your company has violated wage and hour laws, contact HKM Employment Attorneys today for assistance.