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NYC Council passes bill to extend workplace rights to interns

Unpaid interns will have the same protections against sexual harassment as paid employees under a bill approved Wednesday by the City Council.

"No one should ever have to tolerate a discriminatory work environment," Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a City Hall news conference. "Interns are often young people getting their first experience in a professional setting, so it's especially important that they are exposed to a respectful and appropriate work environment."

The council voted 50-0, with one member absent, to pass legislation amending the city's human rights law to provide interns, both paid and unpaid, with workplace protections.

The measure was spurred by a Manhattan federal judge's finding last October that unpaid interns cannot file sexual harassment lawsuits against their employers because the human rights law doesn't cover them in the same way that it does paid employees.

A 26-year-old unpaid intern had filed a legal complaint against her boss at Phoenix Satellite Television's New York bureau alleging that he grabbed her inappropriately.

A bill co-sponsor, Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx) said Wednesday the court decision exposed a loophole that should be closed.

The legislation prohibits employers from discriminating against their interns on the basis of age, race, creed, sexual orientation or citizenship status, Vacca said.

Another co-sponsor, Councilwoman Darlene Mealy (D-Brooklyn), noted that interns "are often in a truly vulnerable position."

Advocacy groups applauded the council decision.

"Interns are workers, and this bill recognizes that," said Mikey Franklin of the Fair Pay Campaign.

If signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the council bill would go into effect 60 days later. A spokeswoman said de Blasio supported fairness in the workplace but did not respond specifically to whether he would sign the bill.

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