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Congresswoman Grace Meng

Representing the 6th District of New York

Meng, Cummings, Scott and Norton Applaud House Passage of their Bill to Protect Interns Against Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Jan 11, 2016
Press Release

Tonight, U.S. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce; Grace Meng (D-NY) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) applauded House passage of their bill, the Federal Intern Protection Act, H.R. 3231, which would make it illegal to discriminate against or sexually harass unpaid interns in the federal government.

“This is common-sense legislation that should have become law long ago,” said Cummings. “Allowing this kind of behavior to go unchecked can have serious consequences on the lives and careers of young people interested in government service, and I am encouraged that the House passed our bill with unanimous support.”

“Internships are often the first real entry into a profession,” said Scott. “Yet, unpaid interns are currently not expressly protected from prohibited discriminatory practices addressed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Rehabilitation Act and other laws, regulations, agency policies. H.R. 3231 would remedy this problem and extend these workplace protections to unpaid interns who may be vulnerable to egregious treatment.”

“It is unacceptable that interns working in the U.S. government continue to be denied the same safeguards that are provided to employees,” said Meng. “Everybody in the federal government, from executives to interns, are entitled to be protected from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and the passage of our bill puts us one step closer towards accomplishing that critical goal. I now call on the Senate to quickly approve our legislation as well.”

“When I administered the equal employment laws years ago, the word ‘intern’ meant newly- minted MDs, who were, of course, paid,” said Norton. “I am grateful that our bill today takes an important first step by giving unpaid interns in federal agencies the protection of the nation’s anti-discrimination laws.”

The measure would protect unpaid interns who work at federal agencies by:

  • Defining “intern” as someone who performs uncompensated voluntary service at an agency to earn credit awarded by an educational institution or to learn a trade or occupation;
  • Extending workplace protections against discrimination and harassment to unpaid interns; and
  • Closing existing loopholes that permit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin as prohibited by section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; age as prohibited by Sections 12 and 15 of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; and handicapping condition as prohibited in section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Federal laws do not adequately protect unpaid interns against sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, handicapping condition, or other factors.

For example, in the 1997 case of O’Connor v. Davis, an employee made unwanted sexual advances against an unpaid intern, calling her “Miss Sexual Harassment,” suggesting that she participate in an “orgy,” and making comments about lingerie.  The court found that the plaintiff was not covered by existing law because she was not an employee, concluding:  “it is for Congress, if it should choose to do so, and not this court, to provide a remedy under either Title VII or Title IX for plaintiffs in O’Connor’s position.”

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) plans to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

Video of Congresswoman Meng speaking on the House Floor can be viewed here.