Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are all grown up, and nothing ushers you into adulthood quite like a lawsuit. The 29-year-old multi-hyphenated media moguls’ company has come under fire from their interns.
According to USA Today, the Olsen twins’ company Dualstar Entertainment Group is facing a class-action lawsuit put forth by 40 current and previous interns, which claims that they should have received minimum wage as they were not receiving school credit, and were also performing tasks that were similar to those of paid employees. In case you’re wondering, Dualstar is the parent company of The Row and Elizabeth and James.
But this goes beyond a simple wage dispute, according to the lead plaintiff. Canadian-born former design intern Shahista Lalani told The New York Post’s Page Six that “It was like 100 degrees outside. I’d just be sweating to death. I probably carried like 50 pounds worth of trench coats,” and claims that she was even hospitalized for dehydration due to the rigours of the job.
Of working under the Row’s head technical designer, Lalani—a Parsons School of Design grad—says: “I was doing the work of three interns. I was talking to her all day, all night. Emails at nighttime for the next day, like 10 p.m. at night,” according to Page Six. In court papers, her duties are described as “inputting data into spreadsheets, making tech sheets, running personal errands for paid employees, organizing materials, photocopying, sewing, pattern cutting, among other related duties.”
This might not necessarily sound so rough, but Lalani paints a pretty grim picture of her intern experience: “You’re like an employee, except you’re not getting paid. They’re kind of mean to you. Other interns have cried. I’d see a lot of kids crying doing coffee runs, photocopying stuff.” Lalani adds, however, that the Olsens themselves are “really nice people…They were never mean to anyone. They’re business people,” according to Page Six. At least our fond impressions of the Littlest Tanners can remain intact.
The question (Debate? Controversy? All-out mess?) of unpaid internships is nothing new. In 2013, U.S. publishing giant Conde Nast shuttered its internship program after being hit with a massive class-action lawsuit—it was eventually settled to the sweet tune of $5.8 million—and replaced it with a paid fellowship program. On the other hand, Hearst fared much better when they shot down a lawsuit over their own unpaid internship program.
Here in Canada, 2014 saw big changes as Toronto Life, The Walrus, and some Rogers-owned magazines dropped their own intern programs—and the aftershocks rippled throughout Toronto’s publishing scene. Earlier this year, a Canada-wide bill to protect the rights of unpaid interns was put forth.
Where do you land on the question of unpaid internships? Law dictates that they should be educational (and/or provided as part of a school program), and not be used in place of actual paid employees. After all, many companies—BuzzFeed, Gawker, and the Huffington Post among others—offer fellowships that marry on-the-job learning for young entries into the tooth-and-nail world of journalism with a bit of cash.
But not everyone agrees. WWD executive editor Bridget Foley had this to say about the Conde Nast lawsuit fiasco: “they strike me as episodes in Millennial self-absorption and entitlement.” Yikes.
So, back to the Olsens.
Earlier today, Dualstar representative Annett Wolf wrote in a statement to USA TODAY that “As an initial matter, Dualstar is an organization that is committed to treating all individuals fairly and in accordance with all applicable laws…The allegations in the complaint filed against Dualstar are groundless, and Dualstar will vigorously defend itself against plaintiff’s claims in court, not before the media. Dualstar is confident that once the true facts of this case are revealed, the lawsuit will be dismissed in its entirety.”
Well, let’s hope so. Hospitalization for dehydration sounds like a bit much—especially for those pesky entitled Millennials.
What do you think of unpaid internships? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.