In Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York held that Defendants Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. and Fox Entertainment Group, Inc. violated federal and New York labor laws by classifying the plaintiffs as unpaid interns instead of as paid employees.
In this case, the plaintiffs worked on various of Defendants’ productions, including on the film “Black Swan.” Plaintiffs’ job duties required them to perform administrative work such as drafting cover letters, organizing filing cabinets, making photocopies, running errands, picking up paychecks for coworkers, tracking and reconciling purchase orders and invoices, and traveling to the production sets to get managers’ signatures.
Evaluating these job duties, as well as the control Defendants exerted over the plaintiffs in hiring/firing, rates of pay, and supervision, among other things, the Court concluded that based on Department of Labor (“DOL”) guidelines, the plaintiffs were improperly classified as unpaid interns rather than as paid employees. Specifically, the DOL Fact Sheet on Internship Programs enumerates the following six criteria that must be considered when determining whether an individual can be correctly classified as an unpaid intern:
1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
The Court concluded that the plaintiffs adequately demonstrated that they did not meet these criteria, that they were treated in a manner similar to the way in which regular paid employees were treated, and that the work they performed displaced regular paid employees, including through evidence that a supervisor stated that “[i]f Mr. Glatt had not performed this work, another member of my staff would have been required to work longer hours to perform it, or we would have needed a paid production assistant or another intern to do it.”
Although this case was decided in New York, California employers are well-advised to review their unpaid internship programs and consider carefully whether their programs align with the criteria enumerated by the DOL.
Bernstein & Friedland, P.C. is a boutique employment law firm in Los Angeles specializing in wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and unpaid wage and overtime matters. Please visit our website at www.laemploymentcounsel.com to learn more about us.