Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill introduced by Berkeley Assembly member Nancy Skinner that protects unpaid interns and other unpaid volunteers from sexual harassment in the workplace. The governor signed the Assembly Bill on Tuesday. It expands Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights so that people in the workplace who are unpaid are included in the protection against sexual harassment in the workplace in California.
Skinner argues that basic civil rights should obviously be extended to all including interns and volunteers who are working it the workplace regardless of pay rate or no pay. They deserve the same legal protections against discrimination and harassment as paid employees. This was in response to a ruling last year by a federal district court in New York that ruled that the law doesn’t apply to unpaid interns because they are not technically employees.
The New York case was based on allegations by a Syracuse University student that she was sexually harassed, i.e. groped and kissed by a supervisor on the job during her media company internship. She also claims that after she refused his sexual advances that he retaliated against her.
California is now the 3rd state in the country to explicitly ban sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace specifically directed towards unpaid interns. Protection is also offered for gender-based discrimination through the new California law. Other states that have similar laws include: Oregon, New York, and the District of Columbia.
If you have any questions regarding discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace whether you are an employee or an intern, please get in touch with the employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.