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Oversight Committee Passes Cummings Bill to Protect Interns Against Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Oct 9, 2015
Press Release

Oversight Committee Passes Cummings Bill to Protect Interns Against Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

 

Washington, DC (October 9, 2015) – Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform unanimously passed H.R. 3231, the Federal Intern Protection Act, which was introduced by Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings to make it illegal to discriminate against or sexually harass unpaid interns in the federal government. The legislation is also cosponsored by Reps. Bobby Scott, Grace Meng, and Eleanor Holmes Norton.

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

  • Defining “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;
  • 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.

Presently, there are no federal laws or safeguards that protect unpaid interns against sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, handicapping condition and other factors.

“Unpaid interns should be afforded the same protections from sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination as employees,” said Ranking Member Cummings. “My legislation will close loopholes in the current law to ensure that all unpaid interns have the necessary safeguards to protect them in the workplace.”

A number of unpaid interns who have confronted discrimination and harassment have tried unsuccessfully to pursue legal action. 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.

The court concluded: “[I]t 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.” 

Although some interns do receive compensation and stipends, most are unpaid, and work in exchange for academic credit from their educational institution. The members also introduced two other bills, the H.R. 3232, the Unpaid Intern Protection Act and H.R. 3233, the Congressional Intern Protection Act, which would extend similar protections to unpaid interns in the private sector and in the U.S. Congress.  

114th Congress