A federal district court has handed two former unpaid interns for the Fox Searchlight Pictures production of “Black Swan” a big win, holding that the company owes them back wages under U.S. and New York minimum wage and overtime laws. The court also certified a class action for the other unpaid interns working on the production.
In Eric Glatt, et al., v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., the Honorable William H. Pauley III, Judge of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, held that Glatt and co-lead plaintiff Alex Footman were employees for purposes of federal and state labor standards laws and thus entitled to compensation. Judge Pauley also granted plaintiff Eden Antalik’s motion class certification under New York labor standards law and granted conditional class certification under federal labor standards law.
Steven Greenhouse, reporting on the decision for the New York Times, noted its potentially wide-ranging impact:
The case could have broad implications. Young people have flocked to internships, especially against the backdrop of a weak job market.
Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, an estimated half of which are unpaid, according to Intern Bridge, a research firm.
In the ruling, the judge said unpaid internships should be allowed only in very limited circumstances.
. . . Some employers have asserted that they have free rein not to pay interns as long as the interns are receiving college credit. But Judge Pauley said receiving academic credit was of little importance in determining whether interns should be paid.
Eriq Gardner, reporting for the Hollywood Reporter, saw the implications for the entertainment industry, which frequently hires unpaid interns:
In a ruling that is likely to be well read throughout Hollywood and maybe Corporate America at large, a federal judge on Tuesday has handed a couple of the interns suing Fox Searchlight a victory on summary judgment and also certified a class action over the internship programs of Fox Entertainment Group.
This case is far from over. Fox Searchlight Pictures has indicated it will file an appeal of the ruling, which will be heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Until recently, the question of whether unpaid internships violate federal and state minimum wage laws has been largely untested in the courts. The Second Circuit is among the most influential of the federal appeals courts, and its decision will have a significant impact, legally and in businesses across the country.
But for now, this is very good news for those who have questioned the often exploitative, exclusionary practice of unpaid internships. Judge Pauley’s decision is one of first impression, and until an appeals court rules on the case, it stands as the most authoritative judicial pronouncement on this issue.
The full court decision may be accessed here.
Intern Labor Rights has compiled an excellent list of resources on unpaid internships.
The list includes my 2002 Connecticut Law Review article, “The Employment Law Rights of Student Interns,” freely downloadable here, that discusses many of the legal issues surrounding unpaid internships.
And here’s a post I wrote last year on the emerging intern rights movement.
June 13 update
Here are two stories I was interviewed for about the decision, which is getting a lot of media attention:
ProPublica piece by Blair Hickman and Jeremy Merrill – ProPublica is a public interest investigative journalism center that is launching a project examining America’s “intern economy.”
The Outten & Golden law firm, which represents plaintiffs Eric Glatt and Alex Footman, has announced the filing of a class-action lawsuit against Conde Nast, claiming unpaid wages for interns.