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Following a landmark case that found Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns were actually employees under the definitions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Laws (NYLL), Hollywood now faces many similarly situated “unpaid interns” headed to court for justice.
Most recently, two former interns who worked for MSNBC’s Saturday Night Live in 2011 and 2012 have sued NBCUniversal, hoping for a similar outcome. Jessee Moore and Monet Eliastam say their work for NBCUniversal included booking travel arrangements, answering phones, completing paperwork, and running errands, sometimes for more than 10 hours a day, but they were never paid. Based on the favorable ruling by Judge Pauley and with the representation of Outten & Golden, the same firm that successfully won a summary judgment in the Black Swan case, the plaintiffs seek unpaid wages, interest, attorney fees, and costs for interns working for the company between July 3, 2010 and the date of a final judgment, which is estimated to total near $5 million.
Clearly, this ruling has had an immediate effect on the treatment of unpaid internships in Hollywood and elsewhere, as many employers to reach out to employment lawyers to ensure that giving college credit for the internship or simply paying minimum wage is enough to avoid a lawsuit.
The issue of unpaid internships is not entirely new, although the success of the recent Black Swan case has certainly thrust the issue into the public’s attention. In 2010, the Department of Labor issed “Fact Sheet #71“ [PDF] to help employers determine whether interns must be paid. But with Judge Pauley’s reference in the Black Swan case to the Department of Labor’s six criteria–including the requirements that internships be given in an educational environment primarily for the benefit of of the interns and that interns not be used to displace regular employees–compliance with these criteria has become much more serious.
Justin Swartz, attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit against NBCUniversal, says that he hopes the case will clearly communicate to private companies that unpaid interns cannot be used to replace entry-level employees, thereby reducing operational and labor costs. If interns do the work of an employee and contribute to a company’s business, they should be fairly paid.
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