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Fox Fights Class Cert. In Unpaid Interns' Wage-And-Hour Suit

Law360—Jonathan Randles

Fox Entertainment Group Inc. attorneys on Friday told a New York federal judge that internships at its corporate subsidiaries are so varied and individualized that a wage-and-hour lawsuit brought by former unpaid interns can't proceed on a classwide basis.

The case hinges on whether Fox properly categorized its interns as nonemployee trainees, exempting them from federal and state labor laws. The named plaintiffs seek to represent  a class of unpaid interns who worked in New York between September 2005 and 2010 and a nationwide collective class under the Fair Labor Standards Act between 2008 and 2010, the year Fox began paying its interns.

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On Friday,  plaintiffs attorney Rachel Bien of Outten & Golden LLP said the Hearst interns and Fox interns present different factual circumstances. Bien, who represented plaintiffs in the Hearst case, said Fox did indeed have a set of centralized internship guidelines that were enforced by two supervisors who helped oversee the program.

The lawsuit dates back to September 2010 when named plaintiffs Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman sued Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. The duo, who worked on the set of “Black Swan” claimed Fox Searchlight was essentially using the free labor provided by the interns to keep costs down.

In October, Judge Pauley expanded the scope of the litigation, granting a request by the plaintiffs to include corporate interns for News Corp.’s Fox Entertainment Group.

The plaintiffs claim that interns were made to perform various administrative tasks — making copies, answering phones and making coffee runs — and performed other job-related tasks that should have warranted pay. Beginning in September 2010, Fox Entertainment Group began paying $8 an hour to undergraduate interns and $10 an hour to graduate interns, but did not issue back pay to interns who worked prior to that.

“The purpose of the internship has to benefit the intern and not serve as a pipeline of employees for (Fox),” Bien said.

Judge Pauley did not issue a ruling Friday.

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