Casey McDermott for Pacific Standard on challenges to unpaid internships in athletic departments:
In one of the few legal cases involving unpaid internships at universities, a former intern at New York’s Hamilton College filed a lawsuit last year, seeking class-action status, alleging that the school’s athletic department improperly classified its interns to avoid paying the minimum wage. Attorneys for Benjamin Kozik—who wasn’t a student at the time of his internship—say their client was paid about $1,000 a month but sometimes worked up to 90 hours per week and “was given additional responsibilities as a Special Teams Coordinator without an increase in pay,” among other allegations.
As the article notes, nonprofit entities like universities get a little more leeway with interns than for-profit companies in the professional sports or entertainment industry. But they still need to meet general guidelines and cannot simply be a way to get free labor.
A big class action judgment which radically changes how internships are managed would make operating more difficult for many athletic departments. But it also has implications for the relationship between universities and their student-athletes. Much attention has been paid to the direct challenges to NCAA rules restricting student-athletes. But related issues like unpaid internships and graduate assistant unionization may bring the debate over whether student-athletes should be employees back to the front burner.