A judge has issued a “very favourable” ruling for ex-Fox Searchlight interns who say their unpaid gigs violated the law, the Hollywood Reporter reports.
Federal judge William Pauley ruled Tuesday the interns qualified as “employees” who are entitled to earn minimum wage under the Fair labour Standards Act.
The judge also said the suit can go forward as a class action — meaning a bunch of former interns can all band together to sue Fox.
The ruling could send a strong message to corporations across America that might use unpaid interns.
“Employers have already started to take a hard look at their internship programs,” Rachel Bien, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told The New York Times. “I think this decision will go far to discourage private companies from having unpaid internship programs.”
Alex Footman and Eric Glatt both worked as unpaid interns on “Black Swan” and sued in late 2011.
In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Pauley said their internship failed to meet the six criteria necessary for employers to get away with not paying interns:
1. The training interns receive must resemble that of an educational environment.
2. Experiences must benefit interns.
3. Interns can’t replace regular employees.
4. Companies can’t immediately benefit from interns.
5. Interns aren’t necessarily entitled to a job after they finish the program.
6. Interns understand they don’t get paid.
Judge Pauley also certified the class action suit against Fox Searchlight. The case plans to explore all FEG internships, focusing on whether the defendant gained immediate advantage from the interns’ work, whether interns displaced regular employers, and lastly, whether the program benefits the interns. Just a few weeks ago, former interns at various Hearst publications failed to secure class certification for a similar situation.
Maurice Pianko, director and lead attorney of Intern Justice, an organisation specializing in unpaid internship lawsuits, calls the decision a “major victory for young, hungry professionals.” It not only puts the law on interns’ sides but de-stigmatizes fighting for back-wages. He’s already seen an influx in calls and emails.
Fox issued this statement to the Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday’s ruling:
“We are very disappointed with the court’s rulings. We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible.”