A former intern at Phoenix Satellite Television U.S. who sued the broadcasting company for sexual harassment has had her case thrown out of court, because as an intern she isn’t considered an employee.
Lihuan Wang filed a suit against Phoenix in January after her boss, Zhengzhu Liu, reportedly sexually harassed and groped her in early 2010.
But the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has found that because Miss Wang was an unpaid intern she was not entitled to certain employee protections, and could not bring a claim under the New York City Human Rights Law.
Unpaid interns aren’t covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and while local laws can protect them, New York’s state and city laws do not.
The ‘absence of remuneration’ means that the ‘essential condition to the existence of an employer-employee relationship’ is absent.
According to the court’s decision, the New York City Council has had several opportunities to amend the law to protect unpaid interns but has declined to do so.
‘I am not at all surprised by Judge [Kevin] Castel’s ruling,’ attorney M. Carter DeLorme, who is representing Phoenix, told Bloomberg Businessweek.
According to the complaint, two weeks after Miss Wang started working at the Chinese-language media company’s New York office in 2010, her supervisor and bureau chief, Mr Liu, asked her to accompany him to his hotel after a lunch with several of her co-workers, ‘so he could drop off a few things’.
Miss Wang, who now works as a business reporter at Shanghai Media Group, alleges that Mr Liu took off his jacket, untied his tie, and threw his arms around her. She claims Mr Liu called her ‘beautiful’ and tried to kiss her while he squeezed her buttocks. According to the complaint, Miss Wang pushed Mr Liu off her and left the room.
After the court’s decision, Miss Wang is now suing Phoenix for failure to hire. She claims that when she later asked about job opportunities, she was turned away because she didn’t agree to Mr Liu’s alleged sexual demands and his request for her to go to Atlantic City with him.
Phoenix denies that Miss Wang applied for a position at the company, and claims that no one has been hired for a reporter position in New York since Miss Wang’s internship ended.
Mr DeLorme, Phoenix’s attorney, says Mr Liu is no longer employed by Phoenix, so is not involved in the allegations in the suit.