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Federal Judge Rules Unpaid Interns Were Misclassified Employees, Certifies Class Action

abajournal.com—Martha Neil

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).

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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."

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