Court Decides That Unpaid Interns Were Really Employees In Fox Searchlight Case

A New York judge has just determined that Fox Searchlight violated minimum wage and overtime laws by having unpaid interns work on the movie “Black Swan.” Companies may hire “unpaid interns” and have them do a variety of different tasks. However, the requirements concerning when an intern must be paid and when it’s okay not to provide compensation are very specific. If an employer fails to pay you when it should, it may be violating federal and state wage and hour laws.

If you have questions about your right to pay as an intern, it’s a good idea to consult with a dedicated Georgia wage and hour attorney right away.

In the recent unpaid intern lawsuit, Fox Searchlight got into trouble by demanding that their interns function as regular employees. This included performing administrative tasks such as organizing filing cabinets, running errands, tracking purchase orders, drafting cover letters and making copies. While the interns may have received some benefits from this work such as job references, listings on their resume and some training, these were incidental and not the benefit a traditional unpaid internship is meant to provide.

This case is significant because it is one of the first times a court has determined that what is often called an intern, is really an employee, and as a result, entitled to pay.

A representative of the family stated: “This is an incredibly important decision as far as establishing that interns have the same wage and hour rights as other employees …You can’t just call something an internship and expect not to pay people when the interns are providing a direct benefit to the company.”

In ruling for the interns, the judge followed the Department of Labor’s six-part test for determining when an internship can be unpaid. To be unpaid, the internship must be similar to an educational environment, run primarily for the benefit of the intern as opposed to the employer, and the intern’s work should not replace that of regular employees. Other requirements include:

• That the employer that derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
• That the intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and • That the employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Another significant unpaid internship case filed against Hearst Magazines is also making its way through federal court.

For more information about internships or any other wage and hour question, please contact the dedicated Atlanta wage and hour attorneys Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.