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City Council Proposal Would Give Unpaid Interns Right To Sue For Sexual Harassment, Discrimination

New York City Councilman James Vacca speaks at a hearing on civil rights on March 17, 2014. He has proposed a measure that would allow unpaid interns to sue for sexual harassment, discrimination like paid employees. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

New York City Councilman James Vacca speaks at a hearing on civil rights on March 17, 2014. He has proposed a measure that would allow unpaid interns to sue for sexual harassment, discrimination like paid employees. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A measure under consideration by the New York City Council would give unpaid interns some of the same rights as paid workers.

As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx) crafted his proposal after a federal judge last year ruled an intern who claimed she was kissed and groped by a supervisor couldn’t sue for sexual harassment because she wasn’t technically an employee.

Under the city’s current civil rights law, unpaid interns cannot sue for sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

“I was dumbfounded,” said Vacca. “The hole in this law is so big you could drive a Mack truck through it.”

A hearing of the council’s Committee on Civil Rights was held Monday on the measure.

“Interns can be vulnerable, if not more vulnerable than any other employee,” said Vacca.

Christina Isnardi is an undergrad at NYU who’s become an advocate for interns.

“I think I’ve had a dozen interns who’ve came up to me saying that they have had experience with either unwanted sexual advances or discrimination against them based on their race or sexual orientation,” she told Silverman.

Vacca’s measure would cover unpaid interns under the city’s civil rights law.

“Grad schools, colleges and workplace environments are looking for somebody who has done an internship,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said. “But if it’s not safe, I think people will think twice about doing that and that will not give them a fair advantage in their future.”

Lawyers who spoke at the hearing warned council members their definition of “intern” needs to be broader so they don’t exclude anyone.

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