A picture of Representative Robert C.
Robert S.
Democrat VA 3

About Rep. Robert
  • Federal Intern Protection Act of 2015

    by Representative Robert C. "Bobby" Scott

    Posted on 2016-01-11

    submit to reddit

    Read More about Federal Intern Protection Act of 2015

    SCOTT of Virginia. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 3231, the Federal Intern Protection Act.

    This bill would amend title 5 of the U.S. Code to extend protections against discrimination and harassment to unpaid interns who work at Federal agencies. The bill would define an intern as someone who performs uncompensated voluntary service in an agency to earn credit awarded by an educational institution or to learn a trade or occupation.

    Internships are often the first real entry into a profession; yet, unpaid interns are not expressly protected from the discriminatory practices prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and other laws and regulations. This bill would remedy this problem and extend those workplace protections to unpaid interns who may be vulnerable to egregious treatment.

    Madam Speaker, all too often, when unpaid interns have taken cases of workplace discrimination to the courts, the courts have ruled against them. In the Second Circuit, a unanimous panel of judges concluded that unpaid interns are not employees covered by existing laws.

    In the 1997 case of O'Connor v. Davis, an employee at a State hospital harassed an unpaid intern, calling her Miss Sexual Harassment and subjecting her to sexually explicit comments.

    The court stated that it was not unsympathetic to O'Connor's situation and acknowledged that she was not in quite the same position to simply walk away from the alleged harassment, as her success at school was dependent on her successfully completing her internship.

    The Second Circuit noted that Ms. O'Connor's dependency on her employer made her vulnerable to continued harassment much as an employee dependent on a regular wage can be vulnerable to ongoing misconduct.

    Despite that, the Second Circuit concluded: ``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.'' As ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I urge Congress to do more to protect unpaid interns, be it in the Federal sector, in the Halls of Congress, or in the private sector.

    The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has jurisdiction [[Page H256]] over legislation that strengthens worker protections and defends the civil rights laws of workers, including fighting against discrimination and supporting diversity in the workplace.

    Now that the House is about to complete the consideration of H.R. 3231, covering Federal workers, I am calling on the leadership of the Committee on Education and the Workforce to move expeditiously to consider the companion legislation, H.R. 3232, the Unpaid Intern Protection Act. That bill would ensure that unpaid interns in the private sector are free from discrimination and harassment as prohibited by the Civil Rights Act.

    {time} 1745 Extending workplace protections to nonpaid interns, who under current law lack the protections provided by civil rights laws, should be a priority for the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and that is because internships have become such an important part of the workforce.

    According to the 2014 State of Internships Report from a college intern database, InternMatch, about two-thirds of interns surveyed said internships were important for long-term career advancement and about the same number even stated that internships should be mandatory. Student surveys showed that over 60 percent want to intern in the private sector, about 14 percent in the government sector, and 19 percent in nonprofit organizations.

    As Members of Congress, our position should be clear. Regardless of whether an internship is at a Federal agency, on Capitol Hill, or at a Fortune 500 company, we must ensure that the unpaid status of interns does not leave them without a remedy when their civil rights are violated. To that end, we should begin by passing H.R. 3231, the Federal Intern Protection Act.

    We should then start working on legislation to provide similar protections to unpaid interns who work in the private sector.

    I want to thank Ranking Member Cummings for his leadership on this bill, along with my fellow cosponsors, the gentlewoman from New York (Ms. Meng) and the Delegate from Washington, D.C. (Ms. Norton).

    I urge a ``yes'' vote on this bill.

  • submit to reddit
  • Register your constituent account to respond

    Constituent Register