About 40 past and present interns are filing a class action lawsuit alleging wage theft against Dualstar Entertainment Group—the fashion and entertainment company that entrepreneurial twins Mary Kate and Ashely Olsen have owned since 1993 (when they were six years old), and is responsible for cultural contributions like Billboard Dad, Holiday In The Sun and, more recently, their severe and highbrow fashion line, The Row.
What are your thoughts on unpaid internships: Tell us! pic.twitter.com/sFHFZ8senc
— THE FASHION LAW (@TheFashionLaw) August 11, 2015
Fashion designer Shahista Lalani, the lead plaintiff on the case, says she barely interacted with Mary Kate and Ashley in 2012, when she worked 50-hour weeks, unpaid, for The Row's head technical designer. She did however, according to the lawsuit, suffer numerous The Devil Wears Prada-caliber indignities.
For example, Lalani says she was hospitalized for dehydration while on the job. "It was like 100 degrees outside. I’d just be sweating to death. I probably carried like 50 pounds worth of trench coats,” she told Page Six. Adding, "I was doing the work of three interns. I was talking to her [the technical designer] all day, all night. E-mails at nighttime for the next day, like 10 p.m. at night.”
According to the suit, rare moments of downtime were quickly filled with inane tasks. Lalani told the tabloid, "When we weren’t doing something, they’d be like, ‘Organize the buttons in the back by color code."
Because the interns were also called on to do data entry, sew, and cut patterns—in addition to classic intern duties like photo-copying and errand-running—the suit claims that all of them should have been paid minimum wage plus overtime.
As it now stands, Dualstar interns reportedly don't even get academic credit for their services. This puts the company behind the times when it comes to the treatment/exploitation of interns in creative fields. Two summers ago, when Gawker's unpaid interns spoke up, New York magazine detailed an "unpaid-intern uprising" dating back to 2010, when a group of unpaid interns on the set of the film Black Swan sued for lack of compensation (although even those interns got academic credit).
In 2013, thanks to a suit filed by former interns at The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue among others, Condé Nast agreed to pay more than 7,000 former interns $5.8 million in backpay, and scrapped its intern program altogether.
Dualstar issued the following statement today:
As an initial matter, Dualstar is an organization that is committed to treating all individuals fairly and in accordance with all applicable laws. The allegations in the complaint filed against Dualstar are groundless, and Dualstar will vigorously defend itself against plaintiff’s claims in court, not before the media. Dualstar is confident that once the true facts of this case are revealed, the lawsuit will be dismissed in its entirety.