Judge Rules for Unpaid Interns Who Worked on Black Swan

Illustration for article titled Judge Rules for Unpaid Interns Who Worked on emBlack Swan/em

A New York Federal Judge both ruled for the two Black Swan interns suing Fox Searchlight Pictures and gave class certification to a number of interns who had worked at the company in another win for unpaid interns across America on Tuesday.

The win was two-fold: one, the Judge said there was evidence that the two men "were essentially regular employees", and two, that "these internships did not foster an educational environment and that the studio received the benefits of the work." Companies like Fox with unpaid internship programs have argued that they fall under US labor department guidelines for unpaid interns, namely that their internships are "for the benefit of the intern," not the company. In his opinion, the Judge said:

"Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are 'employees' covered by the FLSA and NYLL. They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and perfomed low-level tasks not requiring specialized training. 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."


This Black Swan victory is in sharp contrast to the recent ruling against 3,000 former Hearst interns, who recently lost in their attempt to work as a class action lawsuit because "the commonality requirement is not satisfied because plaintiffs cannot show anything more than a uniform policy of unpaid internship," the Judge wrote in his opinion for that case.

It's hard to tell if these kind of changes will alter the way each industry approaches their internship programs, or even scare other companies who haven't yet been sued into making broad-sweeping alterations in their company set-ups – though we've definitely seen more of these cases recently. Currently the score stands in favor on production company interns (the Charlie Rose interns won their case too, while fashion interns have had less luck. For their part, Fox plans to appeal the Black Swan ruling.

Judge Rules That Movie Studio Should Have Been Paying Interns [NYT]

Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

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I do not agree with unpaid internships in principle, they flood "desirable fields" (media, fashion, journalism, etc) with privileged kids who could not possibly constitute the majority of the best qualified, hardest-working candidates, and close the door in the face of many prospectives. It's a classist system that, I think, it bad for both the industry and the prospective employees. I think Grace Coddington said as much recently, that the interns they have are not the hard-working kids they used to see. Not hard to imagine why unpaid interns at a fashion magazine in Manhattan would not have the strongest work ethic.

However, isn't the real value of the internship (nearly always) in the exposure to the work environment of a field you want to work in, and perhaps most importantly, the resume content? Beyond that, the opportunity to make connections with other professionals and people entering the field. Even if you're just getting coffee for some mid-level manager, you have the opportunity to observe, which is experience that is separate and inimitable in an educational environment. Maybe this is a skewed perspective, because I've never heard of anyone I've known having an internship that "approximat[ed] the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school," and I can't really comprehend how that would be possible in most fields.