Most people have been unpaid interns at some point in their careers. While an unpaid internship can be very instructive and allow the intern to get first-hand experience in their field, some companies are tempted to abuse the system to get free employees.
In the film industry, this seems to be a wide-spread habit and two men who worked on the hit movie “Black Swan” just filed a lawsuit last month asserting that the production company had violated minimum wage and overtime laws by hiring dozens of unpaid interns.
This lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York against Defendant Fox Searchlight Pictures, the producer of “Black Swan“. The lead Plaintiff, Alex Footman, a 2009 Wesleyan graduate who majored in film studies, worked for 5 months on the Black Swan set. He alleges his responsibilities included preparing coffee, ensuring that the coffee pot was full, taking and distributing lunch orders, taking out the trash, and cleaning the office.
The Complaint alleges that these unpaid interns are functioning as production assistants and bookkeepers, performing almost exclusively secretarial and janitorial work. The Complaint further asserts that “in misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox has denied them the benefits that the law affords to all employees.”
The lawsuit seeks class-action status, back pay under Federal and State wage laws, and an injunction barring Fox Searchlight from improperly using unpaid interns.
The U.S. Department of Labor has certain criteria for who can be an unpaid intern. The unpaid position must benefit the intern, the intern must not displace regular employees, the training received must be similar to what would be given in an educational institution, and the employer should derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.
According to lawyers who often work for the film industry, the Department of Labor’s criteria are obsolete. However, no one at Fox Searchlight was available to comment on the story to the New York Times at the time it was published.