Sexual Harassment Claims for New York City Interns

Young female intern at a clothing store experiencing harassment

Thousands of paid and unpaid interns work for employers in New York City every year, hoping to gain experience, on-the-job skills, and a letter of recommendation. Unfortunately, many interns are exposed to unlawful sexual harassment during their internships. If you have experienced sexual harassment as an intern in New York City, you may have a right to file a claim against your employer.

The NYC employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP have extensive experience representing clients in sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination cases. We’ve successfully represented many paid and unpaid interns in sexual harassment claims. If you have questions about your legal rights as an intern, we look forward to answering your questions and informing you of your legal rights. Contact Lipsky Lowe LLP to schedule a free case evaluation.

Protections Against Sexual Harassment of Interns

Until recently, unpaid interns had no right to file a claim for sexual harassment under New York state or New York City laws. Workers who meet the eligibility requirement for being considered an intern can file a claim through the New York State Division of Human Rights or the New York City Commission on Human Rights. 

However, interns who have experienced sexual harassment or gender-based discrimination do not have a right to pursue a claim under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Employees can file a claim for relief with the EEOC within 300 days of the harassment. While it is possible for a paid internship to meet the eligibility requirements of an employee as defined by Title VII, unpaid interns will not meet that criterion and cannot file a legal claim. 

Discussing your case with an attorney can help you understand whether you may be entitled to file a claim through New York state or New York City’s anti-sexual harassment laws. There are time limits for filing your claim in both instances, so the sooner you speak to an attorney, the better. 

Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim in New York

If you are an intern subjected to unlawful sexual harassment, you have the right to file a report internally with your employer’s human resources department. In addition to pursuing an internal claim, employees can pursue legal remedies with the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR). 

Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law allowing unpaid interns to file claims for sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Consequently, employers cannot discriminate against interns or prospective interns based on sex, gender, or gender identity. When interns are subjected to sexual harassment in the form of quid pro quo sexual harassment or a hostile work environment, they have a right to pursue a claim through the Division of Human Rights.

New York’s Human Rights Law protects employers in New York State from unlawful sexual harassment. The Human Rights Law protects employees and interns, whether paid or unpaid, and non-employees, such as independent contractors. Interns can seek protection from sexual harassment regardless of their immigration status. Interns can also file a complaint against an employer with the Division of Human Rights or the New York State Supreme Court.

How Long Do Interns Have to File a Sexual Harassment Claim?

Under New York’s Human Rights Law, interns must file a claim within one year of the sexual harassment. When a person doesn’t file a claim at the Department of Human Rights, he or she can bring a lawsuit directly in state court under the Human Rights Law within three years of the sexual harassment or gender-based discrimination. A person can’t file with the Division of Human Rights if he or she has already filed a complaint in court.

Pursuing a Sexual Harassment Claim Under the New York City Human Rights Law 

The New York City Council passed an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) on March 26, 2014. The amendment provides unpaid interns with the same anti-discrimination protections under the NYCHRL available to all employees. Before the amendment became active, unpaid interns had no rights under the NYCHRL. 

In a federal district court case, a judge ruled that an unpaid graduate intern couldn’t bring a sexual harassment claim under the NYCHRL because he or she wasn’t considered an employee as defined by the law. After this ruling, the council decided to amend the law to include protection for all interns, whether paid or unpaid. According to the amended law, the term included is who works for an employer temporarily. The internship must meet the following requirements:

  • Provide training or supplement training in an educational environment such that the worker’s employability may be enhanced,
  • Provide experience for the worker, and
  • It is performed under the existing staff’s close supervision 

What Happens After I File a Sexual Harassment Claim As an Intern?

After you file a complaint, the Department of Human Resources will investigate the complaint and decide whether there is probable cause to believe that sexual harassment has occurred. If they find probable cause, your case will be forwarded to a public hearing before an administrative law judge. You and your attorney can present evidence, and your attorney can call witnesses and question witnesses. 

The Department of Human Rights has the authority to award compensation to you if they find that unlawful sexual harassment has occurred. The administrative law judge can award one or more of the following types of relief:

  • Requiring your employer to take action to stop the sexual harassment
  • Requiring your employer to redress the damage caused by paying monetary damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and civil fines 

Discuss Your Case with an NYC Sexual Harassment Attorney

The NYC employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP know how to hold employers accountable for the sexual harassment of interns. Many employers assume they can take advantage of interns, especially unpaid interns. However, under New York law, all interns are protected from unlawful sexual harassment. If you were a paid or unpaid intern in New York City and have experienced sexual harassment, including gender-based discrimination, contact Lipsky Lowe LLP to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more about your legal rights and options.