Gawker’s Unpaid Intern Saga: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

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gawker interns

A group of Gawker Media’s former unpaid interns are claiming they are entitled to back pay under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

As PandoDaily reports, “the suit, initially filed in a Manhattan federal court in June of last year, follows a similar, successful, claim by former Fox Searchlight interns who worked on the movie Black Swan.”

Depositions from Gawker attorneys point out that the experiences of the plaintiffs are too different to be grouped together — the argument being that the interns can’t be part of the same “class” if they have differing opinions about the nature of their internships.

Attorneys for the interns responded yesterday:

Relying on excerpts from the depositions of Aulistar Mark and Andrew Hudson, Defendants Gawker Media LLC and Nick Denton (collectively referred to as “Gawker) argue that this case is unsuitable for class or collective treatment if Plaintiffs do not have idential subjective feelings about their Gawker internships, and if they do not have personal knowledge about potential plaintiffs. The law does not support Gawker’s argued standard. Plaintiffs have already carried their burden and demonstrated that they, and the former interns they see to represent, were subjected to Gawker’s common policy of replacing employees with interns to whom Gawker did not pay at least the minimum wage.

PandoDaily’s Paul Carr has been following the suit from the outset:

To anyone paying attention, the news that N.Y.-based gossip site Gawker is grossly hypocritical won’t come as a shock. After all, as I wrote in December, the blog giant generates millions of monitizable pageviews with class-baiting stories of wealthy tech elites destroying San Francisco, despite the fact that Gawker Media is itself a huge tech company, based in a Cayman Islands tax haven, and founded by a multimillionaire who hero worships Steve Jobs, thinks “Uber may do more for the planet than foreign aid workers in Mozambique” and who made his fortune organizing events for Europe’s tech elites.

Carr points out the extent of Gawker Media’s hypocrisy:

In October of last year, in a story titled “Unpaid Intern Not a Real Employee, Can’t Sue for Sexual Harassment,” Gawker expressed outrage that unpaid workers at Phoenix Satellite Television were denied the same rights as other employees…

Two months earlier (“Condé Nast Stops Paying Interns”), the site huffily called out “Magazine conglomerate Condé Nast, which was slapped with a lawsuit in June for paying interns less than a dollar per hour.” Remarkably Gawker didn’t mention anything about their own lawsuit, which was filed the exact same month.

Still, Gawker has reserved its most aggressive snark for wealthy new media bosses who don’t pay their help. Back in August, under the headline “Revealed: Sheryl Sandberg’s Unpaid Intern Disgrace”, former Valleywag editor Sam Biddle (who has since been bumped down to “co-editor”) tore apart the Facebook COO when one of her employees advertised for an unpaid assistant to help with Sandberg’s book tour…

Apparently, the interns were replacing Gawker’s paid, entry-level employees and many viewed their internships as work — rather than learning — experiences. In a series of depositions, Gawker staffers basically say the experience itself is reward enough for its non-paid editorial interns, some of whom did not even receive college credit.

Carr writes, “Putting aside the question of whether Gawker had the legal right to keep blog slaves — a question the court will answer soon — the company’s 60-plus pages of excuses are in stark contrast to Gawker’s editorial condemnation of other companies who use unpaid interns.”

In an earlier time, an unpaid internship at a media company like Gawker may have been appreciated despite its not being paid, but in light of Gawker’s own editorial stance on the nature of the practice, its interns may have the last laugh and the last bagel.

*image credit: PandoDaily

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