“Black Swan” Intern Case Could Grow Wings
August 16, 2012 8:45 am
Plaintiffs in the high-profile unpaid internship case against Fox Searchlight are seeking to expand their affected class, stating that Fox Entertainment Group had a company-wide policy of classifying unpaid interns as employees until late 2010. The case is being watched closely by employment lawyers and the entertainment industry, as a ruling favorable to the former interns could make unpaid internships, often seen as a rite of passage for entry into glamour industries such as film and publishing, a thing of the past.
In a recent court filing, attorneys for the interns allege that illegal internship practices were prevalent at Fox, stating, “…the same hiring, personnel and company policies that applied to Searchlight interns applied to all interns who participated in FEG’s internship program.”
These policies provided:
Until approximately July 2010, interns hired to work within FEG were not paid for the hours they worked … FEG required unpaid interns to complete I-9 forms, sign confidentiality agreements and deemed them to be “employees” covered by Worker’s Compensation laws … In or around July 2010, FEG changed its policy to require all interns to be paid approximately $8/hour beginning in fall 2010.
The change in policy could be perceived as an implicit admission that Fox’s internship program was illegal. Furthermore, the recent spate of lawsuits has employers justifiably spooked about what has become a free labor source for them. The boldness of the interns in the Fox Searchlight case could allow scores of interns who have heretofore remained silent to be remunerated for their unpaid internship hours.
Eric Glatt, one of the original plaintiffs on the case, was a 42 year-old accounting intern who left a job at KPMG to take an unpaid internship working on the movie Black Swan. Late last year, he spoke with the New York Times about his attempted career change:
“When I started looking for opportunities in the industry, I saw that most people accept an ugly trade-off,” he said. “If you want to get your foot in the door on a studio picture, you have to suck it up and do an unpaid internship.”
A hearing on the proposed new class, which seeks to include both “Corporate Interns” and “Production Interns” who worked for Fox Entertainment Group, will take place August 24th in federal court in Lower Manhattan. Should the judge agree that FEG had an illegal company-wide policy on interns, this “ugly choice” could finally begin to move toward obsolescence.
Image from here