Valentino Smith thought he was going to learn the ins and outs of the fashion and marketing world when he took an internship with Donna Karan in 2009. But unfortunately he learned the ins and outs of making coffee and straightening closets.  Smith, who now has a master’s degree from Long Island University, is suing Donna Karan International on behalf of 100 other interns.

“He characterized it as a “Devil Wears Prada” atmosphere. He got so much coffee for people he knew what they wanted without having to ask” said Smith’s attorney, Lloyd Ambinder.

According to the lawsuit, Smith did menial office jobs like data entry, shipping inventory, and answering phones.

“Using a copy machines isn’t what someone would call an internship,” said Smith who had expected to get on-the-job training toward his career.

“I feel like I was taken advantage of.”

Smith feels that he should have received at least minimum wage, which is $7.25.

Once again the idea of interns being unpaid and basically being free labor to companies is something many lawsuits are citing. But lets discuss the actually fallacy involved with internships. When you think about it, it’s the student who’s actually paying to work.  When you’re a college student you’re the one paying for the course credits. Which is what most internships provide.  Maybe some students are lucky enough to have scholarships and full rides, but sometimes this not the case. Do you know how much a credit is nowadays at a college? Not cheap.  The intern and the internship both have responsibilities: in exchange for “free” labor, the company takes on a pedagogical relationship with the intern. If they aren’t willing to teach the intern anything besides how to make coffee and get the mail, are they really teaching or just committing fraud?  If the experience isn’t preparing an intern, it’s a waste of time and money.

So what’s an intern to do? Basically they’re left to do their own due diligence when it comes to choosing internships. If a student isn’t willing to work for “free”, maybe they should look into other options. We all know that paid internships are far and few.  But a lot of temp agencies regularly recruit on campus before semester breaks.

In regards to Smith’s lawsuit against Donna Karan International, it’ll be interesting to see the outcome.  But a rep for the company admitted no wrongdoing.

“DKI believes it has acted properly and legally,” said company rep Valerie Gelicame.


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  • naan

    I stopped taking on “internships” when I realized that most internships aren’t even good. It’s a lot of female-dog-labor vs labor that will actually build on your skills and teach you things.

    I think there should be some sort of guidelines when companies want this “free” labor. What exactly are you teaching these students? What letter of recommendation are you giving them afterwards?

    Don’t say “you have to pay dues”, because these students are already going to “pay dues” when they get an entry level job.

  • lauryn

    Yes. More often than not, they’re using interns to do the work they should hire someone to do. And when the student is done OR when the company has decided the intern is no longer of use to them, they let them go with very little warning (I’m speaking from experience). I did a PR/Social Media/Copywriting internship with a small local business and as soon as they had their first write-up in an online publication (thanks to the press release I wrote), they let me go. No, we had not discussed a specific end date either.

    No unpaid internships.

  • Azure

    I started out doing a job similar to what this kid was doing & it felt a lot like the Devil Wears Prada…however I was TOLD before hand what the job was like. I did run a lot of errands, cleaned showrooms & got coffee for clients but I also learned some other skills that benefit me now. And I got paid while I was doing the leg work. I feel the companies should hire people for this work. At least give them school credit if you can’t afford to pay them.

  • TheRealDonDiva

    Nooooo….not Donna Karan! She’s one of the few designers that make jeans and pants that will fit my black girl booty.

    *crosses fingers* Please don’t let Diane Von Furstenberg be the next one to get mixed up in this mess. I need those DVF wrap dresses in my life!

  • Dom

    I’m 22 years old, didn’t go to college, and have been working since I graduated high school. I give you that small story because even though all my friends have graduated college and are now moving on to bigger and better things, there’s one thing they apparently didn’t learn: life’s a bitch and then you die. Many (not all but many) of them have this sense of entitlement and baseless pride. This attitude of “I am unemployed because there are no jobs. I’m not working at such and such for $9 an hour.” They don’t seem to understand that life is not a college campus where everything is fair and balanced and puppies and rainbows. And what really boggles me is how people can willingly apply for a position of any kind and then complain about the circumstances. Did they not read the small print? If I sign up for an unpaid internship, I’m not gonna complain about having to get coffee and perform other menial tasks. What happened to humility, hard work, and hustling?

    • kaybee

      You definitely don’t sound educated. That’s the difference btw a lot of ppl with an education and those of you who don’t have one. Standards.

    • Dom

      So you insult my intelligence, that I can let slide. But in your attempt to sound witty in your response you failed to address any of the real points I brought up. I give you a thumbs down for yoir poor response, but I encourage younontry again and actually address what I said.

    • Keepingitreal


      I’m with you. If someone agrees to participate in an unpaid internship, then why should they ask to be paid.

    • People agree to unpaid internships to learn, if you aren’t learning anything in between coffee runs you’ve been cheated. You can do all of the other stuff while being paid $7.25 as a receptionist.