I had an interesting twitter conversation today about Conde Nast’s decision to end its internship program, in the wake of lawsuits filed against them.
We got stuck on the use of “litigious” though. I really don’t like that word—it’s thrown around a lot by large companies who wish to discredit people and lawsuits against them. Remember the joke that was the woman that spilled hot coffee on herself, summoned as an example for frivolous lawsuits? Yeah, she had horrific burns (link goes to article, not photos of the injury) and in the end received far less than the reported sum.
I’ve been in a lawsuit before. I was hit by a drunk driver, and had very high medical bills as a result. I had to sue because the car insurance wanted to give me $5,000. The policy covered much more than that. I had to obtain a lawyer and go through a very long process to receive a settlement. I got a little bit of money in return for my injuries, the long recovery after, and a lifetime of knee and back problems. (And if my “back problems” sound suspect, rest assured I had compression fractures of several vertebrae, so no, not bullshit “my neck hurts” stuff).
Had I not gotten a lawyer, I would’ve gotten that $5,000 (which my health insurance would’ve promptly taken—look up subrogation, it’s fun). That’s the thing about large companies: they are not always working in the best interest of people, they are working in the best interest of their shareholders.
So what do we say about unpaid interns who sue a company that violated employment laws? They’re litigious, that is to say, suing because they can!
Americans “like to sue” because we have one of the weakest social safety nets and poor regulations. If we had universal medicine, I wouldn’t have needed a lawsuit. I would be guaranteed medical care at the time of my accident, and in the future, at no expense. That’s what my settlement was about: the future medical care I would need as a result of the accident, not just the stuff immediately after. Doesn’t cover the PTSD, my fear of driving, or the strain on my marriage during the recovery—but at least, economically, I would not be screwed.
Look at the fertilizer factory in Texas. A state with extremely lax regulations, and a cap on lawsuit settlements. Had the factory been properly regulated, the accident probably would have never happened. But it did, and people died, and now their families have a cap on the settlement they can obtain from a wrongful death case. This is tort reform; this is our country putting companies ahead of the needs of people. And it’s why we need the right to sue.
Conde Nast’s internships likely violated employment laws, and so some people threw away their chances of ever working in publishing in order to shine a light on a system that exploits people eager to work in the industry. They’re not litigious; they’re part of a labor movement, making large companies accountable to the law.