A Fox Entertainment Group Inc. unit misclassified unpaid coffee-fetching interns when it failed to call them employees, a federal judge said Tuesday, a blow for the company in its fight to avoid paying the young staffers.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said two unpaid interns who worked on “Black Swan,” a movie produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc., provided free labor to Fox but got little of educational value in the bargain.
The workers — who ran errands, photocopied and made coffee, among other menial tasks — should have been legally classified as employees, the judge said. Internships must be structured to provide benefit to the intern to qualify for a labor law exemption on paying wages, the judge said.
“They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and performing low-level tasks not requiring specialized training,” he said. “They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school.”
The decision means the interns and others like them might be eligible to receive pay for the time they worked for Fox.
Though the interns knew they would be unpaid going into the job, employees are not allowed to waive their wages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Judge Pauley said.
The judge also ruled that interns who worked in the corporate offices of Fox Entertainment Group Inc. can conditionally proceed as a class to push related claims they brought.
The lawyers representing the interns can send notice of the lawsuit to unpaid interns who worked for five Fox Entertainment Group divisions — Fox Filmed Entertainment, Fox Group, Fox Networks Group, and Fox Interactive Media — from September 2008 to September 2010.
Those interns worked in Fox corporate offices, and not on movies.
Both the film production and corporate interns have the same lawyers, but the lawyers have not yet moved for class certification for the production group.
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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 to include corporate intern Eden Antalik, who worked for Fox Entertainment Group, as a plaintiff.
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The case is Glatt et al. v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc., case number 1:11-cv-06784, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.