Lawsuit: Unpaid Film Interns Considered Employees

Two interns who worked on the film "Black Swan" are considered to be Fox Searchlight employees, a Federal Judge ruled recently. A third intern can represent a class, Courthouse New reported.

In October 2011, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, interns on the film "Black Swan" from 2009 to 2010, sued Fox Searchlight and its parent company, Fox Entertainment Group, under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.

Neither Glatt, who said he worked in accounting, nor Footman, who said he was in the production office, received pay or college credit while working on the film in New York.

Image credit: Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight Pictures

"This practice runs afoul of basic wage-and-hour laws, which require that employers pay all of their employees - even those desperate for the work - the minimum wage, as well as overtime for hours over 40 in a workweek," the complaint said. "In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees, including unemployment and workers' compensation insurance, sexual harassment and discrimination protections, and, most crucially, the right to earn a fair day's wage for a fair day's work."

Glatt claimed he worked five days a week for 40 to 50 hours per week, for 51 days. He worked another 44 days in post-production. Footman said he worked five days a week, 40 to 50 hours a week, for about 95 days.

The movie took in more than $300 million in revenues.

The men seek class damages for money owed on Fox Searchlight films from September 2005 until the final judgment. They also seek an injunction to prevent Fox Searchlight from using unpaid interns on its film productions. According to the suit, Fox Searchlight used more than 100 unpaid interns on "Black Swan."

Read More: Unpaid Interns Denied Class Status

In the 36-page decision, Judge William Pauley III acknowledged that Glatt and Footman clearly benefited from their internships with resume listings, job references and "an understanding of how a production office works."

"But those benefits were incidental to working in the office like any other employee and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them," the judge continued. "Resume listings and job references result from any work relationship, paid or unpaid, and are not the academic or vocational training benefits envisioned by this factor.

"On the other hand, Searchlight received the benefits of their unpaid work, which otherwise would have required paid employees."

Interns have filed lawsuits against other media companies. On Thursday, two former interns filed a lawsuit against Condé Nast, the New York Times reports. They claimed the company did not pay them minimum wage during their summer jobs at W Magazine and The New Yorker, in 2009 and 2010. They asked that it be approved as a class-action suit.

In May, a New York judge dismissed a class-action suit by a group of unpaid interns against Hearst Corp. The judge ruled that they don't meet the definition of a class, but that they could sue as individuals.

A third intern in the Fox case, Eden Antalik, who worked at Searchlight's corporate offices in New York, can represent a class of other unpaid interns alleging violation of New York Labor Law, Pauley ruled. Those interns worked at various Fox Entertainment Group outfits from Sept. 28, 2008 to Sept. 1, 2010.

Read More: UN-NGO Internship Auctioned

While both Glatt and Footman knew they were not going to be paid-and they did not expect to be hired at the end of their internships-"this factor adds little, because the FLSA does not allow employees to waive their entitlement to wages," Pauley wrote. "Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are 'employees' covered by the FLSA and NYLL."

In a statement, Fox spokesman Chris Petrikin said that the company believes the Court's rulings are "erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the [U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals] as quickly as possible."