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Interns May Be Legally Subjected to Sexual Harassment


In most states, your internship supervisor can suggest you take off your clothes, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) won’t do anything about it. Interns are not employees and do not enjoy civil rights at work.

(Photo Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer/Flickr)

Interns are students and not employees; therefore, they do not receive pay for their work. Some believe that interns should be paid as employees, but at this moment, that is not necessarily the case. Because interns are not employees, they do not enjoy the rights, protections, and privileges that their workmates on payroll have come to expect. 

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The case of Bridget O’Connor made headlines in part because many young, female interns need internship hours and a good letter of recommendation to get their careers off the ground. Therefore, they may be less inclined to complain about sexual harassment and other forms of mistreatment while enduring a temporary but required internship. O’Connor is made of stronger stuff than that, and was unwilling to quietly tolerate being being like a sex toy. 

Propublic explains: 

In 1994, Bridget O’Connor began an internship at Rockland Psychiatric Center, where one of the doctors allegedly began to refer to her as Miss Sexual Harassment, told her that she should participate in an orgy, and suggested that she remove her clothing before meeting with him. Other women in the office made similar claims.

However, O’Connor’s sexual harassment claim was dismissed on the grounds that she was not an employee. The federal appeals court agreed with the decision to throw out the claim. 

It is one thing to deny a student completing an internship a paycheck and employment benefits, but this case is about O’Connor’s civil rights. A legal loophole that denies human beings basic civil rights needs to be tied shut. Incentives for hiring interns should not include the opportunity to abuse them with impunity. 

Oregon State Law

Just this past June, Oregon stepped up and closed that loophole for interns. House Bill 2669 extends civil rights protections to interns performing work for educational purposes. 

Perhaps the rest of the country can get on the ball and require that unpaid interns be afforded basic protections from discrimination and sexual harassment. 

Tell Us What You Think

Were you or do you know someone who was an intern? How were you treated? Leave us a comment or join the conversation on Twitter.

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