Lawsuit : Many Unpaid College Interns Deserve Wages -

Lawsuit : Many Unpaid College Interns Deserve Wages

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Brand - Community Watchdog L7 Brand - Community Watchdog L7

 Stephanie Figerle spends 95% of her workday doing the least glamorous jobs.

"It's bad. It's cleaning up poop all day," Figerle said.

The Davidson student is a full-time intern, one of nearly a dozen at the Greenville Zoo.

"I come in a at 8. We do cleaning in the morning which, definitely in the summertime, it's hard," she said.

Zoo interns work as many as 11 weeks, up to 5 days a week, working with animals or teaching children.  None of them earn a dime and only some earn college credit.

"We knew what we were getting into so that's part of it," said Lillie Wardell and intern in the education department who teaches children at some of the zoo's many summer camps.

Zoo director Jeff Bullock said the zoo isn't taking advantage.

"It's an opportunity for them to get experience. They have the opportunity to leave, we aren't keeping them in chains," Bullock said.

The zoo is exempt from many of the strictest federal rules about unpaid interns.  The law for government, non-profit, religious or charity jobs allows them to qualify as volunteers.  

But many interns at for-proft jobs profiteserve far more than they get.

A class action lawsuit filed in Federal court claims some interns are "becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them."

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act there are six criteria applied before allowing an unpaid internship at a for-profit company.

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers students in unpaid internships are about half as likely to get a job after graduation as those who have paid internships and they have no advantage over those with no internship at all.

Students in paid internships also earn far more than their unpaid peers at their first job.  Unpaid interns, on average, earn less than graduates who do not do any internship.

Stephanie Figerle is getting college credit for her work at the zoo.  She doesn't seem to mind the work.

"I'd rather do this job for the rest of my life and be happy than wake up every day and be miserable at a job," Figerle said.


     at least a job...would have a paycheck.

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