By Jay-Anne B. Casuga
Unpaid interns who worked during the production of Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc.'s film Black Swan are employees entitled to the wage-hour protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law, a federal district judge in New York decided June 11 (Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 11-06784, 6/11/13).
Ruling for interns Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman on the issue, Judge William H. Pauley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that they did not fall within the FLSA's unpaid “trainee” exception.
Applying Labor Department criteria, the court said the interns did not receive training similar to that in an educational environment, as they performed routine tasks that otherwise would have been performed by paid employees. The court also held that Fox Searchlight was the “primary” beneficiary of the internships.
Although Glatt and Footman understood that their internships would be unpaid, the court pointed out that the FLSA “does not allow employees to waive their entitlement to wages.”
“Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are 'employees' covered by the FLSA and NYLL,” the court ruled. “They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and performing low-level tasks not requiring specialized training.”
The court also ruled for the interns on their claim that Fox Searchlight was their joint employer based on the company's level of control over them via film production.
In addition, the district court denied a favorable ruling to Fox Searchlight and its parent company, Fox Entertainment Group Inc., on whether Fox Entertainment was a joint employer of another unpaid intern, Eden Antalik, who worked at Fox Searchlight's corporate offices in New York.
The court further granted Antalik's motion to certify a class under the NYLL on behalf of all unpaid interns who worked for four Fox Entertainment divisions between September 2005 and September 2010, finding the requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure satisfied. The court also conditionally certified a related FLSA collective action.
Lastly, the court ruled for the film companies on the untimely California Unfair Competition Law claim of Kanene Gratts, an unpaid intern who worked during the production of the film (500) Days of Summer.
In the past few years, unpaid interns of for-profit, private sector employers have brought several wage and hour suits in New York courts. The district court's ruling here is the first to find that such interns are employees under the FLSA.
Last month, a different Southern District of New York judge denied partial summary judgment on the employee issue to unpaid Hearst Corp. interns, finding various factual disputes concerning DOL's unpaid intern criteria (31 HRR 498, 5/13/13). The judge also denied the publishing company interns' request for class certification of their NYLL claims.
Meanwhile, a proposed NYLL class action filed in March 2012 by unpaid interns of the Charlie Rose Show remains pending in a New York state court (30 HRR 317, 3/26/12).
Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Glatt_et_al_v_Fox_Searchlight_Pictures_Inc_Docket_No_111cv06784_S.