Unpaid “Black Swan” Interns Sue Movie Studio for Back Pay

Two unpaid interns who worked on the set of the popular movie “Black Swan,” have filed suit in federal court in Manhattan against Fox Searchlight Pictures claiming that the way the studio treated interns <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Upaid-Wage-Hour-Minimum-Wage-Overtime-Lawsuit-Lawyer">violated wage and overtime laws. They are seeking back pay and an injunction against the studio for improperly using unpaid interns on future projects. According to a press release issued by the plaintiffs’ attorney, the lawsuit also seeks class action status on behalf of more than 100 unpaid interns on various Fox Searchlight productions.

Plaintiffs Eric Glatt of Brooklyn, New York, and Alexander Footman of Takoma Park, Maryland, claim in their lawsuit that they worked on the production of “Black Swan” in 2009 and 2010. According to a report from The New York Times, Glatt was an accounting intern, while Footman worked as a production intern. The lawsuit seeks, among other things, minimum wage rate for all hours worked and overtime for the hours that they worked over 40 per week. The complaint alleges that Fox Searchlight’s practices with respect to unpaid interns violate the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law (NYLL).

According to The New York Times, federal labor law requires that interns benefit from their work, and that regular paid employees are not displaced. They must also receive training similar to what would be given in an educational institution. Finally, the employer cannot derive an immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.

Both plaintiffs claim their internships failed to provide the educational experience they were seeking. Footman told the Times, he was stuck making coffee, taking and delivering lunch orders, cleaning offices and taking out the trash. Among other things, Glatt, who has an MBA and left a paid position to take the internship, was given secretarial-type assignments, such as obtaining signatures on documents and creating spreadsheets to track missing information in employee personnel files.

“The only thing I learned on this internship was to be more picky in choosing employment opportunities,” Footman told the Times.

Glatt told the Times that at first, he saw the internship as an “ugly tradeoff” he had to make to get into the movie business.

In recent years, the number of unpaid interns in many businesses has exploded, but one expert said the movie industry is abusing the practice.

“In recent years, the use of unpaid interns by private firms has gotten out of control. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the film and entertainment business, where unpaid interns, receiving little training but doings tons of work, are everywhere,” Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, said in the statement issued by the plaintiff’s attorney. “This complaint represents an important step towards righting a major wrong, reminding the millions who intern each year that their hard work deserves a fair wage.”

Glatt’s and Footman’s lawyer told the Times that their lawsuit would be the first of several that seek to fight internships abuse.

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