Suing for sexual harassment should be a right, not a privilege

Sexual harassment is an awful practice that no employee is stranger to in the sub-divisions of the working world. Lihuan Wang is a 26-year-old unpaid intern at Phoneix Satellite Television who recently lost her sexual harassment lawsuit because she was not an employee, just an unpaid intern. In what appears to be the single most absurd response to a crime of any magnitude, a New York district judge elaborated on Wang’s loss by making the bold statement, “New York City’s Human Rights Law’s protection of employees does not extend to unpaid interns.”

What is very scary is that Oregon is apparently the only state to extend the protection to unpaid interns and it only became law in June of this year. This means in the other 49 states that make up this great country, if you are not a paid employee who receives a salary, benefits or sick time then your rights can be infringed on because they apparently do not matter if you are just an intern. Unpaid interns always tend to get the rough end of the stick, but to be unprotected from sexual harassment is downright immoral.

Photo by Flickr user UGA College of Ag

Just about six years ago, Jamie Evans was also working an unpaid internship for health services at CIBT/PMA in Washington, D.C. During her time there, she was placed to work with chiropractor Dr. Steven Kulawy, who Evans claimed “engaged in inappropriate and offensive behavior.” After talking to a representative from the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC), a group Suffolk has a partnership with and which placed her there to begin with, she decided to stop her internship. District court judge Ellen Segal Huvelle dismissed her case simply because she too was an unpaid intern. It is ludicrous that cases and information like this can simply fall through the cracks, and be ignored to such a degree is appalling. This is not an outburst based squarely on emotion and morality; it is about legality and responsibility.

This is not to say that it is a battle without its winning moments, such as high profile victories against Fox Searchlight and Charlie Rose, but to be someone who is just thrown up as another body for the foundation is plain deceitful. Cases could be named from here or there and facts could be pointed out to show how bad the depravity is in these cases, but many citizens will forget the names and the trauma that these poor individuals had to endure. To truly understand, try to put yourself in the position that these youths were thrown into. This story is so important because many students can place themselves in these shoes.

Many young students are now finding themselves thrown into the awkward and petrifying “real world” with accepting and aggressively hunting down internships but these young adults need to be cautious of the world around them. What is scary by this logic though is who exactly is protected from sexual harassment. This gives pretty much any and every company member that has unpaid interns a license to assault.  We are living in a supposed progressive year, where tolerance and intelligence should be blossoming, and yet the majority of our great nation does not care about what happens to its youth. There is no logic in the sentiment that if you are an unpaid intern you cannot sue for sexual harassment. There are bound to be a few white knights out there that would dive at the chance to argue in favor of that. Not only is a person’s trust utterly paralyzed after this, how would one pick themselves back up into the working world?  It is truly a shame that Wang lost her case, in fact it is downright shameful, but a person can still hope and believe that those responsible will one day be trialed for their crimes against humanity. Attorney Lynee Bernabei, who said that “As young interns, these are the most vulnerable people and clearly they should be protected,” represented Wang in her case. The gravity of these words is staggeringly poignant.