Longtime advocates for cramming the work of multiple people into a single role, The Olsen Twins are currently being sued by 40 current and previous interns at the former actors’ two fashion companies, over claims of being forced into unreasonably grueling hours without pay or college credit. The class-action lawsuit was filed against the twins’ Dualstar Entertainment Group—parent company to their fashion lines, Elizabeth And James and The Row—by one Shahista Lalani, who gave Page Six a detailed account of her four-month employment under the Olsens that includes tales of 50-hour work weeks, exhausting physical labor that landed her in the hospital, supervisors who were “kind of mean,” and interns openly weeping in the offices. Lalani also says she and those fellow interns often performed the same tasks as some full-time employees and therefore should have received similar compensation. At the very least, they probably should not have been hospitalized.
While it’s the Olsens who are ultimately being held responsible, Lalani takes pains to say that Mary-Kate and Ashley themselves are “really nice people” who were “never mean to anyone” directly. “They’re business people,” Lalani explained—albeit business people whose company had Lalani “doing the work of three interns.” Meanwhile, it took two whole Olsens to play one single baby. And with an estimated worth of $300 million, clearly the Olsens weren’t receiving the salary of half a baby.
Among the decidedly non-baby duties Lalani says she was asked to undertake were typical intern-delegated things like data entry, photocopying, and “organizing materials,” but also somewhat-unusual things like sewing, pattern-cutting, cleaning, and running personal errands for other employees. That included tending to The Row’s head technical designer, a “very demanding” woman who has probably seen The Devil Wears Prada multiple times, about whom Lalani says, “I was talking to her all day, all night. Emails at nighttime for the next day, like 10 p.m. at night.” This designer would also allegedly send Lalani to do things like “go get my Advil.” In this sort of high-pressure, low-reward environment, Lalani says she’d “see a lot of kids crying doing coffee runs, photocopying stuff,” which is the sort of soul-crushing workplace tableau that usually comes with at least minimum wage.
In the most egregious of Lalani’s claims, she adds that she was sent to the hospital for dehydration after being forced into 100-degree weather, where she “carried like 50 pounds of trench coats.” (It’s unknown which Olsen Twin was inside them at the time.)
The lawsuit—which Dualstar has already pledged to fight in court—comes amid a renewed public discussion about the legality of unpaid internships, sparked by a 2011 case brought by two interns who served on the production of Black Swan. That case was ruled in favor of the interns, and—although that decision was recently overturned—it nevertheless gave hope to anyone who’s ever worked unpaid on something involving unsettling twins.