Labor & Employment

Federal judge rules unpaid interns were misclassified employees, certifies class action

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Read more about Eric Glatt’s suit against Fox.
Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.

In a ruling that is likely to catch the attention of employers nationwide, a federal judge in New York has ruled that unpaid interns were misclassified employees and has certified a class action against Fox Entertainment Group in which internships throughout the company’s corporate offices will be reviewed.

Granting, in part, a summary judgment motion filed by the interns, U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled that lead plaintiffs Alex Footman and Eric Glatt were employees of Fox Searchlight Pictures when the producer was creating Black Swan in New York, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Hence, the Fair Standards Labor Act and New York state labor law applied, he held in a Tuesday opinion (PDF).

Pro Publica also has a story.

Although the two plaintiffs were treated as unpaid interns, the judge held that their work situation at Fox did not qualify as a bona fide training program under a six-factor U.S. Department of Labor test. The DOL envisions that interns will not replace regular employees and will get training equivalent to what they might have learned from attending school on the subject.

“They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and performed low-level tasks not requiring specialized training,” Pauley said of Footman and Glatt in his opinion. “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.”

In a written statement provided to the Hollywood Reporter, Fox said: “We are very disappointed with the court’s rulings. We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Outten & Golden, who will now serve as class counsel.

A federal judge in another case over unpaid internships at Harper’s Bazaar and other publications in the magazine division of Hearst Corp. recently denied class certification, as an ABC News article details.

See also

ABA Journal: “More unpaid interns say they want to be compensated” (Aug. 2010): “As Feds Eye Unpaid Internships Warily, Written Agreement Can Show Compliance” (Sept. 2011): “In Latest Misclassification Suit, Interns on Hit Movie Black Swan Seek Pay for the Work of 100s” (Feb. 2012): “Unpaid Intern Sues Harper’s Bazaar Publisher for Wages and Overtime, Seeks Class Action Status”

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