Can You File a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit in New York? [Not If You’re an Unpaid Intern]

26 year-old Lihuan Wang recently filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss at Phoenix Satellite Television’s New York Bureau. Wang said that, when she served as an unpaid intern for the Bureau back in 2010, her supervisor “grabbed her butt and tried to kiss her.” A Manhattan Federal Court Judge, Kevin Castel, put a damper on her quest for justice. A local New York paper summarized his decision: “the judge said that, since unpaid interns are not technically employees, they cannot sue for sexual harassment.

Or, as the New York Post put it: “no paycheck, no benefits – and no protection from creeps.” After Castel’s ruling on October 3rd, Wang’s attorney expressed outrage and consternation: “this is terrible … there is no logical reason to allow an intern who is young and vulnerable to be sexual harassed.”

Upon learning of this loophole, Gale Brewer, a city councilman from Manhattan, said that she will put forward legislation to prevent this kind of human rights issue in the future. Both Washington D.C. and Oregon have amended their human rights laws accordingly. Wang was so disturbed by what happened that she left United States to go back to her native China. But her lawsuit will go forward on different charges. She contends that the Television Bureau did not hire for a paid position as retaliation for her turning down her boss’s advances.

Wang’s complex and challenging case illustrates that sometimes it can be very difficult to win justice, even whether you have a compelling story and good evidence on your side. Fortunately, you do not have to fight your own legal battles and “make the system work for you” on your own. The team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum has the experience and track record to help you obtain justice and fair compensation for harassment. Call us at (212) 688-5640, or email us for immediate assistance at

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