By Tom Precious
ALBANY -- Days after a federal judge said an unpaid intern did not have the same protections as paid employees against workplace sexual harassment, a state lawmaker has introduced legislation to end what has been described as a dangerous loophole in the state’s human rights laws.
Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, wants to end sexual harassment episodes in which employers have escaped without any penalty solely because the victim was an intern.
The legislation comes after a federal judge in New York ruled Oct. 3 that a Syracuse University graduate could not, as an intern, sue a Chinese-language media company in Manhattan, despite allegations that her former boss made unwelcome sexual advances against her in 2010. The decision, which the judge said was necessary because New York City’s human rights provisions do not provide protections for unpaid interns, drew national headlines.
In a memo accompanying Krueger’s legislation, the lawmaker also cited a 2004 case of an unpaid intern at Rockland Psychiatric Center who was allegedly called "Miss Sexual Harassment" by a staff physician, who also suggested she remove her clothes before meeting with him. Her sexual harassment lawsuit lost because of her intern status.
Krueger’s legislation, which does not yet have an Assembly sponsor, makes it unlawful for employers to "engage in unwelcome sexual advances" or make requests for sexual favors or engage in "other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to an intern."
The legislation also provides other specific human rights protections to unpaid interns, including making it illegal for a company to take any retaliatory action against an intern who has filed a complaint of sexual harassment. Other protections are also being sought, including banning employers from forcing an intern who is pregnant to take a leave of absence.
Krueger said her bill is based on an Oregon law designed to protect unpaid interns.