Unpaid interns: The field is changing!

By Linda H. Evans,
Senior Associate.


Federal District Court judges in New York ruled on June 11, 2013, that Fox Searchlight Pictures had violated federal and state minimum wage laws by not paying interns who worked on the movie Black Swan.  This case could have a far-reaching impact, not just on the film industry, but on other businesses that rely heavily on unpaid internships.  In reviewing the facts of this case, the judges noted the internships did not foster an educational environment and the studio received the benefits of the work, not the students.  The students did basic chores, like taking lunch orders, answering phones, arranging travel plans, tracking purchase orders, taking out trash and assembling office furniture. The judges used the criteria from the DOL for unpaid internships which state the arrangement should not be for the immediate advantage of the employer, the work must be similar to vocational training given in an educational environment, the experience must be for the benefit of the intern and the work should not displace that of regular employees. Whether an intern receives academic credit for the work is of little importance in determining whether interns should be paid, according to these judges.  Although the company plans to appeal this case, this is just the first in a series of lawsuits filed by unpaid interns.  Last December another such case settled for over $200,000 in back wages.  Stay tuned and be careful if your company uses unpaid interns!