NY Court Rules Unpaid Internships Violate Labor Laws

US District judge questions the legality of internships on the set of Fox Searchlight Picture’s Black Swan

By: Tom DiNardo, Staff Writer

Image courtesy of Mat Melanson

Image courtesy of Mat Melanson

Attention all students and recent grads looking to fill out your resume with internships at some of the biggest companies in the world – your days of unpaid work may be numbered.

US district judge William H. Pauley III ruled in New York last week that Fox Searchlight Pictures had violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns working on the 2010 production of Black Swan.

A pair of interns, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, filed the lawsuit in a Manhattan federal court in September 2011. According to the plaintiffs, they performed tasks that regular employees would normally do, minus the educational experience that is supposed to benefit the intern.

Among these were basic administrative tasks, including filing cabinets, making copies, and tracking purchases. Also included was menial work, with Footman claiming that he was to take out the trash and clean the office

Pauley based his ruling on a six-part test outlined by the U.S. Department of Labor for determining whether an internship must be paid or not. For one thing, the internship should primarily benefit the intern, not the employer. [pullquote]Also, the intern’s work cannot replace the work of a regular employee.[/pullquote]

However, The Department of Labor’s test has been criticized for being too rigid in the past.

[pullquote]This ruling is just one decision out of a number of lawsuits brought forth by disgruntled interns against Harper’s Bazaar and the Charlie Rose Show over the past few years.[/pullquote]

Chris Petrikin, spokesperson for 20th Century Fox, said the company plans to appeal Pauley’s decision.

The threat of legal action by unpaid interns may just be enough to change the culture of internships. In a discussion with The Atlantic, New York University School of Law Professor Samuel Estreicher said, “I think most potential employers are going to be very wary of getting involved in unpaid internships.”

Tom DiNardo has a B.A. in History from McGill University. Tom is passionate about reading, writing, and experiencing all that life has to offer. He is currently living and working in Montreal, Quebec.

Show more