Two days after a judge ruled in favour of two ex-Fox Searchlight interns who sued over an unpaid gig they say violated the law, two former Condé Nast interns have launched their own lawsuit.
Lauren Ballinger was an intern at W Magazine in 2009 and Matthew Leib interned for The New Yorker in 2009 and 2010, The New York Times reports. The New Yorker paid Leib $300 to $500 for each summer he worked at the magazine, and Ballinger said she was paid $12 a day to work in W’s accessories department.
While Leib was working for The New Yorker, he reviewed pieces for submission, proofread and edited articles, and helped out with various aspects of the magazine’s cartoon section, according to court papers. Leib worked three days a week for about 8 hours a day, The Times reported.
Ballinger told The Times that an editor at W compared her internship to Anne Hathaway’s job in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” but said it was worse because there was no makeover at the end. She said W paid her $12 a day to work in the accessories department, and her hours were from 8 or 9 a.m. each morning until 8 to 10 p.m. each night. Ballinger said she was responsible for packing, organising and delivering accessories to editors.
The U.S. Department of labour has set standards for unpaid internships, which are considered illegal unless they meet the following criteria:
- The internship must be similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.
- The internship experience must be for the benefit of the intern.
- The intern can’t displace regular employees, and must work under the supervision of existing staff.
- The employer can’t derive any immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.
- The intern can’t be promised a job at the end of the internship.
- The employer and the intern must understand that the intern isn’t entitled to wages.
More lawsuits were expected to come forward after a judge handed down Tuesday’s ruling in the Fox Searchlight case. The judge found that the interns qualified as “employees” and were entitled to minimum wage. Alex Footman and Eric Glatt, who brought the suit, both worked as unpaid interns on the “Black Swan” set.
Not all recent lawsuits against companies who use unpaid interns have been successful. Last month, a judge threw out a class action suit against Hearst Magazines filed by former Harper’s Bazaar intern Diana Wang. The judge ruled that Wang and other plaintiffs could file individual lawsuits against the company, but that the suit could not go forward as a class action.
This creates a problem for interns who might want to take on companies that didn’t pay them for their work. As New York Magazine points out, individual plaintiffs are less attractive to lawyers because the suits would have small payouts — minimum wage back-pay for the time they were at the company.
The ruling in the Fox Searchlight case might have changed the playing field. That judge said the interns’ suit could proceed as a class action, which means Footman and Glatt could potentially recover money for all Fox Searchlight unpaid interns.
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