Gawker, a digital media company, was sued by former interns who allege that they were only classified as interns in order for the company to avoid paying them minimum wage. Gawker has been fighting the lawsuit and is now arguing about how potential plaintiffs should be notified of the class action lawsuit.
The case began in 2013, when three former interns sued Gawker in federal court for unpaid wages and damages. The interns alleged that Gawker paid them nothing or underpaid them and used their services to publish content on the Internet. The company allegedly made a large amount of revenue in part from the work of the interns.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, in order for a position to be considered as an internship, and therefore to be unpaid, the internship must meet several criteria. The experience gained at the company must benefit the intern. The employer must derive no immediate advantage from the work provided by the intern. The internship must be similar to training that would be given in an educational environment. The intern must not displace regular employees.
This lawsuit is one of several out there against major companies that are using interns as underpaid workers. NBC settled a lawsuit with almost 9,000 unpaid interns who worked on Saturday Night Live. Fox Searchlight Pictures has been sued for not paying interns who worked on the 2010 film Black Swan. Conde Nast was sued on claims that W magazine paid a former intern less than $1 an hour.
Now that the lawsuit is underway, the challenge for the plaintiffs is how to reach other former interns who may wish to join the class action lawsuit. Obviously, Gawker wants to limit the number of potential plaintiffs and is arguing against notifying them in creative ways. The plaintiffs want to use a variety of different methods to reach the interns, most of whom are young and may not be able to be found using traditional methods.
The judge has already ruled that those potential plaintiffs cannot be contacted via Xbox Live, but the judge has said that they can be reached through social media. Gawker has multiple complaints about the plaintiffs’ proposed social media plan. First, Gawker argues that these individuals should not be sent multiple messages – for example, Gawker argues that the plaintiffs should not be able to send one person a Facebook message, a tweet, and a LinkedIn invitation.
Gawker is also taking issue with the hashtags used to discuss the lawsuit. Gawker wants only one single general tweet about the lawsuit, and if a hashtag must be used, it should be #gawkerinternlawsuit. However, the plaintiffs argue that they should be able to use the hashtags #fairpay, #livingwage, and #nickdenton. Gawker claims that #fairpay and #livingwage are inflammatory and suggest that the court believes Gawker has broken the law. In addition, Gawker argues that the hashtag #nickdenton, which refers to the founder of the company, is inappropriate since he is not identified in the case and his personal conduct is not an issue.
Finally, Gawker is asking that the plaintiffs limit their exposure on certain sites. Gawker does not want the plaintiffs to post information about the case in certain places on the website Reddit. In addition, while Gawker has no issue with the creation of a Facebook page related to the lawsuit, it does not want the plaintiffs’ attorneys to permit any friends requests from potential plaintiffs. Further, Gawker does not want any additional blogs created on Tumblr about the lawsuit – it argues that there are already two and there is no need for any more.
The times have changed when it comes to lawsuits. The traditional ways of reaching potential plaintiffs don’t always work with younger generations. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is companies attempting to get away with improperly paying employees. When that happens, the employees must hold them accountable and make a claim for back wages. If your employer has improperly paid you, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She can help you make a claim against your employer for back pay and damages. Call to learn more.