Judge: Unpaid Interns on "Black Swan" Film Should Have Been Paid

A federal judge granted class-action certification to a lawsuit challenging Fox Searchlight Pictures' use of unpaid production interns yesterday. Two interns on Fox's blockbuster film "Black Swan" filed the lawsuit in 2011, claiming that the company's internship program violated New York Labor Law, particularly minimum wage and overtime. Judge William Pauley ruled that the internship was advantageous to employers, who used unpaid interns for positions that should have been paid.

Their tasks included answering phones, ordering lunch, and making travel plans for other employees, while tracking purchase orders, taking out the trash, and putting together office furniture. 

"They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and perfomed low-level tasks not requiring specialized training," Judge Pauley said, "The benefits they may have received -- such as the knowledge of how a production or accounting office functions or references for future jobs -- are the results of simply having worked as any other employee works, not of internships designed to be uniquely educational to the interns and of little utility to the employer. They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school." 

Fox told the Hollywood Reporter they are "very disappointed" with the "erroneous" rulings, and "will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible."

As NBC News notes, "The 'Black Swan' case was the first in a series of lawsuits filed by unpaid interns":

In February 2012, a former Harper’s Bazaar intern sued Hearst Magazines, asserting that she regularly worked 40 to 55 hours a week without being paid. Last July, a federal court ruled that the plaintiff could proceed with her lawsuit as a collective action, certifying a class of all unpaid interns who worked in the company’s magazines division since February 2009. This February, an unpaid intern sued Elite Model Management, seeking $50 million.

After a lawsuit brought by unpaid interns, Charlie Rose and his production company announced last December that they would pay back wages to as many as 189 interns. The settlement called for many of the interns to receive about $1,100 each — amounting to roughly $110 a week in back pay, for a maximum of 10 weeks, the approximate length of a school semester. 

Read more about the rulings here


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