Firm puts Vice in its sights for intern class action

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Vice Media CEO and cofounder Shane Smith at the 2014 Webby Awards. (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
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Peter Sterne

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The law firm that sued Condé Nast and others for using unpaid interns has set its sights on Vice Media, Capital has learned.

Three people who previously worked as unpaid interns for Vice told Capital they have been contacted by the law firm Outten & Golden, which has previously brought class-action lawsuits against Condé Nast, Hearst, NBCUniversal, Charlie Rose’s production company, and the Twentieth Century Fox subsidiary Fox Searchlight.

Two of the former interns said that they had been emailed by Outten & Golden, while a third received the following LinkedIn message from Justin Swartz, a member of the firm’s Class & Collective Action practice group:

My law firm is investigating potential legal claims on behalf of Interns who worked for Vice Media. We identified you as a former intern based on your LinkedIn profile and are contacting you as part of our investigation into these claims.

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Specifically, based on information obtained during the course of our investigation, we believe that Vice may have violated federal and state wage and hour laws by using interns to perform work and failing to pay them wages.

If you would be interested in learning more about your rights or potential claims or would like to speak with us about your experience, please contact my colleague Juno Turner at [redacted]. Any information that you provide to us could help us obtain a recovery on your behalf and on behalf of other interns. Of course, you are under no obligation to respond to this message. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Justin M. Swartz

Swartz did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Turner declined to discuss the case since the firm has not yet filed a complaint against Vice.

Last year, Vice announced that it would begin paying its interns. “For years, VICE used part-time unpaid interns—a practice that we recently halted,” the magazine wrote in an editor’s note in December. “We currently pay interns $10 an hour and limit them to 20 hours a week during the school year and 25 hours a week during the summer.”

Vice is only the latest target of Outten & Golden, a firm dedicated to employment law that has recently developed a niche in filing class-action lawsuits against major media companies on behalf of interns paid less than minimum wage.

The results of the suits have been mixed. Last year, one judge ruled that former Fox Searchlight interns were entitled to minimum wage, while a different judge ruled that former Hearst interns did not qualify as a "class" that was eligible to bring a class-action lawsuit. Both Condé Nast and Charlie Rose have agreed to settle the lawsuits brought against them, with the former also deciding to abandon its internship program altogether.