The unpaid internship may be a thing of the past.
Two unpaid interns who worked on the movie Black Swan, Alex Footman and Eric Glatt, won a massive lawsuit against their former “employer” Fox Searchlight on Tuesday that could do away with the practice of hiring unpaid interns at for-profit companies.
The judge in the case, William Pauley, ruled that Fox should have paid the interns as regular employees because the positions violated the Labor Department’s six criteria for legal unpaid internships, including:
• The intern cannot displace a regular paid employer
• The labor must be for the benefit of the intern, not the employer
• The internship must be similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.
Glatt and Footman said their duties included things like taking lunch orders, answering phones, scheduling employees’ travel plans, assembling furniture, and taking out the trash. Another plaintiff in the case, Kanene Gratts, who worked on Fox Searchlight’s film 500 Days of Summer and did not win her lawsuit because the statue of limitations on her claim had expired, said one of her tasks was taking down movie sets in extreme heat. “The weather was really hot. It was warm and it was at the end of summer,” she said in a testimony.
“Undoubtedly Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman received some benefits from their internships, such as résumé listings, job references and an understanding of how a production office works,” wrote Judge Pauley in the ruling. “But those benefits were incidental to working in the office like any other employees and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them…Searchlight received the benefits of their unpaid work, which otherwise would have required paid employees.”
There are approximately one million internships offered every year, according to the research firm Intern Bridge, and about half of those are unpaid. “I think this decision will go far to discourage private companies from having unpaid internship programs,” Rachel Bien, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, told The New York Times.