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Olsen Twins Fight “Groundless” Suit from Ex-Interns
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The Olsen Twins, Ashley and Mary-Kate, deny their ex-interns’ allegations of wage theft. Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail

Summary: The Olsen Twins’ company, Dualstar, is the latest big corporation to be sued for not paying interns. The twins are fighting back.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are fighting back against their former intern, Shahista Lalani, who has filed a lawsuit seeking back wages for an unpaid internship. In recent court documents, the 29-year-old celebrity sisters denied all of Shahista’s allegations. According to The Fashion Law, “The interesting part of the twins’ response document comes in the form of the defenses their legal team asserts on their behalf. They set out seventeen of them, including that Lalani is an inadequate class representative, that there is not a common question of law or fact amongst the proposed class of interns, and that a class action is not the appropriate manner of proceeding, among others.”

  
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“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,” Dualstar representative Annett Wolf told USA TODAY. 

In August, Shahista and thirty-nine other interns filed a class action lawsuit in New York Supreme Court against the Olsen Twins’ company, Dualstar Entertainment Group, which is the parent company to their high fashion brand, The Row. The suit alleges that the interns were forced to work 50-hour weeks for no pay or college credit.

Lead plantiff Shahista, a Parsons graduate, said she suffered dehydration from working so hard. She told the New York Daily News, ““It was like 100 degrees outside. “I’d just be sweating to death. I probably carried like 50 pounds worth of trench coats.”

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USA Today reports that the interns’ duties at The Row included “inputting data into spreadsheets, making tech sheets, running personal errands for paid employees, organizing materials, photocopying, sewing, pattern cutting, among other related duties.” Shahista further alleged that the lead technical designer was “demanding” and would contact her “all day, all night.”

According to The Daily Mail, Shahista wants Dualstar to pay all former and current interns minimum wage.



The Department of Labor has strict guidelines companies must follow to have unpaid interns. Two of the rules are (1) “the internship experience is for the benefit of the intern,” and (2) “the intern does not displace regular employees.” In this instance, Shahista is arguing that if she hadn’t made all those copies or organized the office, the organization would have had to pay someone to do it. Therefore, she was an employee and not an intern, and should be compensated for her time.

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Shahista Lalani, the lead plaintiff in the intern case. Courtesy of Instagram

The Olsen lawsuit is the latest in a string of claims against for-profit corporations in glamorous industries. The entertainment and fashion industries have a notorious history of making people “pay their dues” with unpaid internships. The first emerged in 2011 when Eric Glatt and Alex Footman, two unpaid interns who worked on the set of Black Swan, sued Fox Searchlight Pictures for minimum wage violations. Soon after, class action lawsuits against NBC Universal, Warner Music Group, Conde Nast, Hearst, Viacom, and Elite Model Management resulted in multi-million dollar settlements for the interns, according to Think Progress.

David Yamada, a law professor at the University of Suffolk in Boston, told Think Progress, “I think it’s reflective of the fact that advocates in this emerging intern rights movement are trying to identify, as a strategic mater, wealthy, high-visibility companies to bring these lawsuits at. It really underscores the fact that a lot of these internships are, frankly, exploitative.” Per Yamada, “these are entities that could easily afford to pay interns minimum wage and for whatever reason, they’re not doing so.”

The Richest estimates that the Olsen Twins are worth $300 million. According to Think Progress, their empire of entertainment, fashion, and lifestyle products is worth $1 billion dollars.



 

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