Jury Must Decide If Student-Interns Were ‘Employees’

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By Kevin McGowan

Oct. 28 —Students who worked at unpaid internships while studying to become certified registered nurse anesthetists may be employees entitled to minimum wages and overtime pay, a federal district court in Florida ruled ( Schumann v. Collier Anesthesia, P.A. , 2016 BL 358717, M.D. Fla., No. 12-347, 10/27/16 ).

The court applied a seven-factor test developed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to rule 25 students who attended Wolford College and interned at Collier Anesthesia as part of their course requirements may be “employees” under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the time spent at work.

Whether interns are employees entitled to compensation has become a more prominent issue as internships become a more essential part of preparing for many careers.

The Second Circuit test from Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. is meant to minimize “the potential for some employers to maximize their benefits at the unfair expense and abuse of student interns.”

Factors Point Different Ways

The students conceded Wolford and Collier didn’t promise them compensation or a job with Collier after they graduated, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida said Oct. 27.

That means at least two factors tilt against finding the students were employees, Judge John E. Steele wrote.

But a jury could find other factors either suggested an employment relationship or were at least ambiguous, the court said.

For example, the students worked at Collier during periods when the college was out of session and they toiled more than 40 hours some weeks while getting many fewer hours of academic credit, the court said.

The jury also must resolve whether the internship lengths were excessive or academically necessary and if the interns displaced or merely complemented Collier’s paid employees, the court said.

On balance, a jury reasonably could decide the interns were FLSA employees who must be paid for at least some of the time spent working at Collier, the court said.

May Be Joint Employers

Collier and Wolford College may be liable as the students’ “joint employers” if the interns are covered under the FLSA, the court said.

The college president and Collier’s executive director also could be found individually liable for FLSA violations.

Wolford maintained sufficient control over the scheduling, performance and evaluations of the students’ internships to be considered their joint employer for the time spent at Collier, the court said.

Kwall Showers Barack & Chilson PA represented the student interns. Grant Fridkin Pearson Athan & Crown PA represented Collier Anesthesia. Ford & Harrison LLP represented Wolford College, the school president and Collier’s executive director.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kevin McGowan in Washington at kmcgowan@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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