A New York federal court ruled Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. and Fox Entertainment Group, Inc. are liable for failing to pay interns in violation of federal and state labor laws, Outten & Golden LLP said today.
In the first ruling of its kind, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III, of the Southern District of New York, ruled Tuesday that named plaintiffs Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman were employees of defendant Fox Searchlight Pictures and protected by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state wage and hour law. Judge Pauley also held that plaintiff Eden Antalik may prosecute her claims as a class action against the defendants on behalf of interns employed by certain FEG subsidiaries.
The interns worked as production assistants, bookkeepers, secretaries and janitors on films produced and co-produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman were unpaid interns who worked on production of the film Black Swan in New York. After production ended, Mr. Glatt took a second unpaid internship relating to Black Swan’s post-production. Ms. Antalik was an unpaid intern at Searchlight’s corporate offices in New York.
Mr. Glatt said, “This decision should serve as a warning to employers across the country. You cannot simply slap the term ‘intern’ on a job description and think that relieves you of the legal and ethical obligation to pay wages for the labor that helps your organization succeed.”
The interns are represented by Adam T. Klein, Rachel M. Bien, Juno Turner, and Sally J. Abrahamson*, of Outten & Golden LLP’s New York office. The firm was appointed class counsel by the court.
Ms. Bien said, “This important ruling re-affirms that unpaid internships are not lawful unless they are part of a real training program that involves much more than just learning on the job, and they are not lawful if the interns’ work provides a direct benefit to the company. It also emphasizes the importance of allowing interns to band together in class actions and challenge companies’ illegal unpaid internship policies.”
In his ruling, the judge wrote of the interns, “They performed tasks that would have required paid employees…Menial as it was, their work was essential. The fact they were beginners is irrelevant… [T]he FLSA does not allow employees to waive their entitlement to wages.”
Mr. Klein said, “Federal and state law is clear when it comes to unpaid internships, but too many hard-working students are caught between their universities and the industries they hope to join upon graduation. The court’s ruling in this case not only firmly establishes that the former Fox interns can recover the wages to which they are entitled, but also shows companies everywhere how interns should be treated.”
The class action covers individuals who had unpaid internships between Sept. 28, 2008 and Sept. 1, 2010 with one or more of the following FEG divisions: Fox Filmed Entertainment, Fox Group, Fox Networks Group, and Fox Interactive Media (renamed News Corp. Digital Media).
Filed in September 2011, the lawsuit seeks to recover unpaid wages, overtime pay, unreimbursed expenses, liquidated damages, interest and attorneys’ fees for unpaid interns.
Unpaid interns who believe they may be part of the class should contact Juno Turner at @email or 1-877-4OUTTEN to ensure they receive updates on developments in the case.
The case is “Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, et al., v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc.,” No. 1:11-cv-06784 in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.
Media Contact: Erin Powers, Powers MediaWorks LLC, for Outten & Golden LLP, 281.703.6000 or @email.
*(admitted pro hac vice; not admitted in New York, admitted in Texas and the District of Columbia only)