The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a former psychologist intern at the Medical College of Wisconsin is not protected under state anti-retaliation rules for health employees. The reasoning for the decision is due to the fact that the woman who made the complaint was an unpaid intern. As she had not been compensated for her work, she was unable to be considered an employee under the law. The ruling noted that if unpaid interns were classified as employees, almost everyone would have to have been classified as an employee.
After her appeal was denied by the Division of Equal Rights of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in January 2010 and by the Labor and Industry Review Commission in August 2011, she filed a review petition with the Milwaukee County Circuit Court where it also ruled against her in April 2012. After another ruling by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals confirmed the other previous decisions, the woman then decided to appeal further to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Internships differ from traditional employment because the focus is on gaining work experience as opposed to making money. Although an intern may receive a paycheck, the company that takes on an intern is not necessarily obligated to do so. When an intern is considered an employee, an employment law attorney may be helpful if an intern feels that he or she was the victim of wrongful termination.
Source: Business Insurance, "Unpaid intern doesn't count as employee in retaliation case: Wis. high court", Stephanie Goldberg, July 24, 2014