Judge Favors Two Unpaid Fox Interns in Labor Lawsuit

Interns – 1, Fox Searchlight – 0

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a federal judge granted a victory to interns as it relates to their lawsuit against Fox Searchlight.

Okay, here are the details: Alex Footman and Eric Glatt were two interns who filed the lawsuit in late 2011. Per the piece, they worked on Black Swan and indicated Fox Searchlight’s unpaid internship program violated minimum wage. Plus, they claimed it violated overtime laws.

William Pauley, federal judge on the case, gave a ruling that is favorable to Footman and Glatt. Although Searchlight tried to convince him production companies such as Lake of Tears worked closely with the interns instead of their company, he didn’t buy it.

He wrote, “Searchlight’s power to fire Black Swan production staff was unbridled.” In addition, he added, “Searchlight closely supervised work on Black Swan” and “the crew of Black Swan was tied to Searchlight, not Lake of Tears.”

In addition, the judge examined whether or not the internship program was truly that — a legitimate program. Apparently the U.S. Department of Labor has a set of criteria to determine if an internship is eligible to be unpaid. For example, three of the six factors entail whether the employer derives immediate advantage, whether the intern isn’t necessarily entitled to a job after the conclusion of the internship and the understanding about no entitlement to wages.

The judge reviewed Footman and Glatt’s Black Swan experiences and claimed:

“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 is a far cry from [the Supreme Court’s decision in]Walling, where trainees impeded the regular business of the employer, worked only in their own interest and provided no advantage to the employer. Glatt and Footman do not fall within the narrow ‘trainee’ exception to the FLSA’s broad coverage.”

Fox issued a statement after the ruling: “We are very disappointed with the court’s rulings.  We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible.”