In Atkins v Capri Training Center, in the District of New Jersey, Judge Susan Wigenton considered a Motion to Conditionally Certify a Collective Action. Capri was a for-profit corporation that included beauty schools. Atkins attended one of the schools owned by Capri. While she was a student, Atkins worked at the Clinic in Clifton, NJ, and provided services for paying customers in an effort to satisfy her statutorily required clinical training for a license in cosmetology. Atkins also performed janitorial and clerical functions that were essential to the Clinic’s operation.

She alleged that she and other students performing similar tasks were considered “employees” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and were therefore entitled to wages. She moved for conditional certification and to be allowed to send notice to potential class members.

To obtain a license to practice cosmetology or hairstyling, an individual must attend a licensed beauty school and perform work in a clinical setting. This clinical setting is a portion of a licensed school in which members of the general public receive cosmetology services from registered students for a fee (used to recoup only the cost of materials used in the services). The Students receive credits towards graduation, and ultimately, licensure in cosmetology.

Plaintiff alleged that she was an employee under the FLSA because: (1) Capri was “a for-profit enterprise where the Plaintiff’s labor was essential” to its operation; and, (2) the Clinic actually made a profit. The court rejected these contentions, finding that profitability alone, or lack thereof, was not determinative when assessing the existence of an employer/employee relationship. The Plaintiff also argued that she should be considered an “employee” because Capri, not herself, was the primary beneficiary of her labor, basing this contention on the fact she had to perform janitorial and clerical work. The court found this contention unpersuasive. The purpose of the Clinic was to mimic a real beauty salon. The clinical program allowed students to train under a professional and gain the needed experience and skills.

The Judge concluded that the Plaintiff was not an “employee.” She was not dependent upon Capri for either her livelihood or continued employment and she trained at the Clinic with the understanding that the relationship was temporary. The economic reality of the situation showed that Plaintiff was merely a student trainee who was required, by statute, to hone her soon-to-be professional skills at a clinic.

Maybe this starts a reverse trend in these intern cases, of which there has been a disturbing abundance.