‘Black Swan’ Interns Get Green Light To Sue

thomsonreuters.com Carlyn Kolker
June 12, 2013

A federal judge on Tuesday allowed production workers to proceed as a group in a lawsuit against the film company Fox Searchlight, and deemed some of them to be employees rather than interns under federal and state labor laws.

The decision took a different tack from a ruling by another judge on the same bench, who was faced with the same central question recently.

Eric Glatt and Alex Footman sued Fox Searchlight in September 2011, alleging that the company violated federal and state labor laws guaranteeing minimum wage by classifying them as unpaid interns.

“Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns are a crucial labor force on its productions, functioning as production assistants and bookkeepers and performing secretarial and janitorial work,” they wrote in the complaint.

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In a decision on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Pauley allowed the group to pursue its case as a collective action under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as under California and New York state labor laws.

Pauley also said that some of the plaintiffs in the case met the test to be considered as employees, rather than interns, and granted their summary judgment motion on that issue. Pauley cited a fact sheet with guidelines issued by the U.S. Labor Department.

“They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and performing low-level tasks not requiring specialized training,” Pauley wrote, noting that they did not receive training similar to academic learning.

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In his ruling, Pauley cited the U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, saying that the plaintiffs had met the burden imposed by that case.

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The case is Eric Glatt et al v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No 11cv6784.

For plaintiffs Eric Glatt et al: Adam Klein, Jennifer Liu, Juno Turner, Rachel Bien and Sally Abrahamson* of Outten & Golden.

*(admitted pro hac vice; not admitted in New York, admitted in Texas and the District of Columbia only)