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Senator Kennedy Urges Support for Stronger Workplace Protections for Interns

Federal Court Judge threw out an unpaid intern’s sexual harassment suit, after ruling unpaid interns are not covered by same workplace protections provided to paid employees. 

Senator Kennedy wants NY’s human rights laws reformed immediately to ensure all workers, including unpaid interns, are protected from sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.

Students from colleges across WNY join Senator Kennedy to discuss need for workplace rights for unpaid interns.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Due to a loophole in New York State law, unpaid interns have no protection from sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation in the workplace. At a roundtable discussion with local students at Buffalo State College, Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, called this gap in the law an “injustice” and vowed to pursue legislation to close this loophole and extend stronger workplace protections for unpaid interns.

Earlier this month, in the case of Lihuan Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television, a federal court judge ruled that New York human rights laws do not protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment.  The judge tossed out the sexual harassment lawsuit that Ms. Wang, an unpaid intern, had filed against a former employer, ruling that unpaid interns are not covered by the same workplace protections provided to paid employees. Essentially, the courts determined that since they are not paid, unpaid interns are not technically employees and are not shielded with the same legal safeguards.

Senator Kennedy wants New York State’s human rights laws reformed immediately to ensure all workers, including unpaid interns, are protected from sexual harassment, retaliation, discrimination and other violations. Kennedy is a cosponsor of new legislation (S.5951) that will strengthen workplace protections for unpaid interns and ensure they are not harassed or exploited by superiors or other paid employees.  

“Unpaid interns, like all workers, deserve protection from sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the workplace,” said Senator Kennedy. “It is absolutely urgent that we close this intolerable loophole in the law and strengthen protections for unpaid interns before another individual suffers abuse or exploitation in their workplace. Nobody should be able to get away with sexually harassing a co-worker without punishment, but unfortunately current law fails to adequately protect interns. With our new legislation, we will ensure that all workers, including unpaid interns, are treated with the fairness and respect that they should already be able to expect.”

Students from colleges throughout Western New York joined Senator Kennedy at Buffalo State Wednesday to voice support for this long-needed legislation. In addition to Buffalo State, students who attend the University at Buffalo, Canisius College, SUNY Fredonia and Erie Community College rallied behind Senator Kennedy’s efforts to reform state law and extend labor protections to unpaid interns.

This alarming absence of basic rights for unpaid interns comes to light at a time when more students than ever are participating in internships during their college careers. Over 63 percent of Class of 2013 graduating seniors participated in an internship or cooperative education assignment while working on their bachelor’s degree, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). This is the highest participation rate since NACE began tracking this data with the Class of 2007. A 1992 Northwestern University study put the internship participation rate at 17 percent. There is no official count of the number of paid and unpaid internships across the state and nation, but experts say the prevalence of unpaid internships is exploding. Many estimate that at least half of all internships are unpaid. 

The Kennedy-cosponsored legislation will outlaw sexual harassment against unpaid interns, and it will prohibit retaliation against an intern who files a complaint or reports sexual harassment. The legislation will also make it an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against an unpaid intern based on his or her age, race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, disability, domestic violence victim status or other factors. In addition, the bill will prevent employers from forcing interns to take a leave of absence if pregnant.

“In today’s economy, more and more students are turning to unpaid internships to gain valuable work experiences and get their careers started,” Kennedy added. “The state needs to ensure unpaid interns are protected from harassment and discrimination – just as we would if that student were in the classroom. A student who seeks an on-the-job learning experience and a stronger resume shouldn’t be left defenseless against exploitation in the workplace. This is an injustice that needs to be stopped.”

Only Oregon and Washington, D.C. have passed laws to provide workplace protections for unpaid interns. The New York State legislation that Senator Kennedy is cosponsoring mirrors Oregon’s statute.

Senator Kennedy with students from University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State, SUNY Fredonia, Canisius College and Erie Community College who participated in the roundtable discussion. 

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Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the town of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and nearly all of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at http://kennedy.nysenate.gov.

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Senator Kennedy Urges State Education Commissioner

State Education Commissioner canceled series of town-hall meetings that were scheduled across the state, including one in WNY.

Kennedy wants Commissioner to follow through on the previously-promised meetings to ensure parents have the chance to learn more and ask questions.

Kennedy: Our children deserve a high-quality education, and local families deserve a say on how to improve our schools. 

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, is urging New York State Education Commissioner John King to reverse his decision to cancel a series of town-hall meetings that had been planned for communities across the state. Commissioner King was scheduled to appear at one such community forum in Western New York on October 24. Senator Kennedy wants the public forums put back on the schedule to ensure parents in Western New York and across the state have the opportunity to hear more and ask questions about the state’s new Common Core standards.

In Buffalo, parents have long expressed an interest in meeting with Commissioner King to share their children’s first-hand accounts of their educational experiences. Kennedy believes the State Education Department needs to follow through on their previously-planned meetings to give parents and community residents the chance to raise concerns with senior education officials about their local schools.     

“Our children deserve a high-quality education, and local families deserve a say on how to improve our schools,” Kennedy said. “Western New York parents are concerned about their children’s education, and they were eager to discuss those concerns and ask questions at the upcoming forum. It is extremely disappointing that the decision has been made to cancel the community meeting. I urge the State Education Department to reverse their decision and ensure parents, educators and community leaders are heard when it comes to the future of schools throughout the state.”   

Concern over the impact of high-stakes testing has been growing across the region and state. Earlier this month, Kennedy teamed up with Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Senator George Maziarz to host the Summit for Smarter Schools at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo. About 2,500 people turned out to participate in the Summit – which brought together parents, community residents, education professionals and public officials to discuss needed reforms to ensure schools in Western New York and across the state are gearing children with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century global economy. The discussions largely focused on the use and impact of standardized testing in an effort to help de-emphasize the high stakes nature of these tests.

“Every day, I hear from parents and teachers about the damaging effects of high-pressure, high-stakes tests,” Kennedy said. “Children are losing out on instructional time in all subjects, from science to foreign languages. There’s no question that testing has its place, but we need to it right. Appropriate, reliable testing will help us ensure students are learning the skills they need to achieve academic success without over-testing and over-stressing young children. As a state, we need to devise and pursue solutions to the challenges our schools face.”

In his letter, Kennedy urged the NYSED Commissioner to reverse the decision to cancel the previously-promised series of forums focusing on the new Common Core standards.  He wrote, “I hope you will once again agree to come to Western New York and other areas throughout the state to discuss the changes being implemented to our education system statewide and to hear the concerns and comments of local parents and families as they deal with these and other local educational issues. I believe it would be enormously beneficial for local parents to be able to discuss these issues with you in person.” 

You can read Senator Kennedy's letter in its entirety below, or view a copy of the letter at this link.

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Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the town of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and nearly all of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at http://kennedy.nysenate.gov.

 

Full text of Senator Kennedy’s Letter to the NYSED Commissioner:

October 15, 2013

 

Dear Commissioner King:

I write to encourage you to reverse your decision to cancel the previously-planned series of public forums throughout the state focusing on the new Common Core standards.  I hope you will once again agree to come to Western New York and other areas throughout the state to discuss the changes being implemented to our education system statewide and to hear the concerns and comments of local parents and families as they deal with these and other local educational issues. I believe it would be enormously beneficial for local parents to be able to discuss these issues with you in person.

I know that the problems facing our local schools, especially the Buffalo Public Schools, are not lost upon you. These are problems that you, and local families, deal with, and worry about, every single day.  Many of our Buffalo Public Schools have been labeled as Persistently Low Achieving schools, including two of our high schools: East and Lafayette High Schools.  While these are certainly issues that the public has brought up with both the Buffalo School Board and my office, it is also important that these concerns are brought up with you, our state’s senior-most education official.

In addition to all of this, the state’s continued implementation of the Common Core system has left many parents confused and concerned about their children’s education. It is my hope that further input by parents and community members will help to improve and ease this transition process. The Common Core system is a drastic change from the education system that many parents are familiar with. Hearing an explanation of it from their Education Commissioner would allow them to gain a greater understanding of what their children are learning.

Again, I believe that a meeting with parents and families in Western New York would be advantageous for all parties. It will give you an even greater understanding of the problems facing local schools, and it will arm parents with the knowledge they need to make decisions about their children’s education. I hope you will take this into account and reverse your decision to cancel your visit to Western New York. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.  If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to me in my district office at 716.826.2683.

Sincerely,

 

Timothy M. Kennedy

New York State Senator, 63rd District

 

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State Answers Call for Investigation into Erie County Child Protective Services

Five-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks was murdered last week on Buffalo’s West Side. Family members say they reported abuse to CPS on several occasions, but apparently no actions were taken after they determined the complaints were unfounded.

Kennedy called on the state Office of Children and Family Services to investigate Erie County CPS.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Last week, following the tragic death of five-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks, Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, called on the state Office of Children and Family Services to investigate Erie County Child Protective Services and conduct a full-scale review of procedures put in place to protect children’s safety. Late Wednesday, OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrión responded to Kennedy’s request and informed him that the state is launching an investigation to ensure Erie County has the proper protections in place to keep children safe.

“My heart goes out to Eain’s family. His death was an absolutely unthinkable tragedy. It’s intolerable here in Erie County or anywhere else in New York State,” Senator Kennedy said. “We must take action to prevent these circumstances from ever happening again.”

“I’m pleased the state is using its authority to thoroughly investigate Child Protective Services in Erie County and is now taking further steps to protect the safety of our children,” Kennedy added. “Protecting children and families must be our highest priority, and the state’s aggressive response to our call for a comprehensive investigation shows New York State is serious about keeping our children safe. These are important and long-needed actions to root out child abuse in Erie County and across the state. We must never rest until we can ensure each and every child in Western New York and New York State is kept safe from harm.”

Specifically, Commissioner Carrión said her office would be reviewing all open CPS cases, as well as reviewing the next 200 cases prior to them being closed to ensure Erie County has conducted a thorough investigation into each case.

“First we are conducting an immediate safety assessment on all open CPS cases to establish that the proper protections are in place to safeguard the children involved,” wrote Commissioner Carrión in her letter to Senator Kennedy. “In addition, we will be reviewing the next 200 cases prior to Erie County CPS making a determination that a case can be closed in order to assess whether the investigation was thoroughly conducted and that the conclusion is sound.”

Commissioner Carrión also informed Senator Kennedy that the state has suspended Erie County’s use of the Family Assessment Response (FAR), an alternative CPS response to traditional methods. The FAR model was found to be seriously flawed following the death of 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud in Buffalo.

OCFS will also be completing a fatality report, which is required by law, to address “issues including the cause of death of the child, child protective or other services provided to the child and his or her family and the actions taken by the local social services district since the death of the child was reported,” Carrión explained.

Kennedy is encouraging the state to make its findings public after they complete their investigation into Erie County CPS.

You can review Commissioner Carrión’s full response by clicking this link.

You can read Senator Kennedy's initial call for a comprehensive state investigation here: http://www.nysenate.gov/press-release/senator-kennedy-calls-comprehensive-state-investigation-death-eain-clayton-brooks-and-

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Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the town of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and nearly all of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at http://kennedy.nysenate.gov.

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Thu, 09/26/2013
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