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Students, Volunteers, or Employees? (01/09/12)

Hofstra University in New York was recently sued by 256 graduate and undergraduate students who charged the school had underpaid them for the work they did, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In a federal district court, Hofstra settled the case for nearly $500,000, so the judge did not rule on whether they were students or employees.

The lead plaintiff in the Hofstra case, a graduate student, charged that she had worked more than 40 hours a week during the fall semester managing the football team and performing other on-campus jobs. She was paid only a $700 stipend for the whole semester—less than minimum wage, with no overtime pay provided. The National Labor Relations Board has seesawed on whether graduate students working for/at their schools are allowed to unionize, meaning they are employees. The board said in 2000 that they could, reversed that stance in 2004, and observers say they may be set to reverse it again.