A judge has ruled in favor of two interns who worked for an Oscar-winning film and filed suit against the film’s production company claiming it violated labor laws by not paying them.
Judge William H. Pauley III of Manhattan Federal District Court ruled Tuesday that Alex Footman and Eric Glatt should have been paid like regular employees because they did the same work as regular employees.
According to the judge, the internship on the set of Black Swan was not educational and merely served the benefit of Fox Searchlight Pictures by offering them free labor.
The NY Times reports that about half of the one million internships worked by college undergraduates each year are unpaid, so the impact of this ruling could be broad and profound.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,’ said Mr. Glatt told the Times. “I hope that this sends a very loud and clear message to employers and to students doing these internships, and to the colleges that are cooperating in creating this large pool of free labor for most for-profit employers, this is illegal. It shouldn’t be up to the least powerful person in the arrangement to have to bring a lawsuit to stop this.’
While admitting that the two men benefited from their immersion in the entertainment industry and from potential future from an improved resume and job references, he called them “incidental to working in the office like any other employees and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them.’
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“Searchlight received the benefits of their unpaid work, which otherwise would have required paid employees,’ said the judge.
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Black Swan cost $13 million to produce and grossed more than $300 million worldwide. The lawsuit claimed Fox Searchlight has been able to reduce its production costs ‘by employing a steady stream of unpaid interns.’
A lawyer for the two men said this is something they’d hoped, and believe will be, changed in the wake of the ruling.
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Now, things could be looking up for the country’s interns.
“Employers have already started to take a hard look at their internship programs,’ Attorney Rachel Bien said. “I think this decision will go far to discourage private companies from having unpaid internship programs.’
The ruling indicates that a class action suit involving other Fox interns may now move forward.