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Imagine working on the crew of a big movie production—all the glitz, all the glamour, but not the big paycheck. Actually, no paycheck at all. And maybe not so much of the glamour. That’s because you’re an intern, and you don’t get paid a dime—like most interns everywhere.
You thought you were signing up for an educational experience, but all it turned out to be was grunt work. And now, a Federal District Judge has determined that you should have been paid.
This is exactly what happened for a couple of interns who worked on the movie “Black Swan.”
Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, production interns on “Black Swan,” sued Fox Searchlight in September 2011. In the suit, Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman said they did basic chores, usually undertaken by paid employees. Like their counterparts in other industries, the interns took lunch orders, answered phones, arranged other employees’ travel plans, tracked purchase orders, took out the trash and assembled office furniture.
A judge ordered Tuesday that Fox Searchlight Pictures had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying interns for their work. The decision could change the film industry’s use of unpaid internships, and it could affect the practice of other businesses as well.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Mr. Glatt, who has an M.B.A. from Case Western Reserve University. “I hope that this sends a very loud and clear message to employers and to students doing these internships, and to the colleges that are cooperating in creating this large pool of free labor — for most for-profit employers, this is illegal. It shouldn’t be up to the least powerful person in the arrangement to have to bring a lawsuit to stop this.”
The judge ordered that Fox Searchlight should have to pay the two interns because they were essentially regular employees.
The judge noted that these internships did not foster an educational environment and that the studio received the benefits of the work. The case could have broad implications. Young people have flocked to internships, especially against the backdrop of a weak job market.
Undergraduates work more than one million internships a year—half of which are unpaid.
“Employers have already started to take a hard look at their internship programs,” said Rachel Bien, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “I think this decision will go far to discourage private companies from having unpaid internship programs.”
Some say the decision would cause companies to hire fewer interns and thus hamper college graduates from getting helpful experience. Others say it’s a good decision because unpaid internships foster favoritism. Kids who can live off their parents can afford to take an unpaid internship while others have to work for a living.
What do you think? Should interns be paid, or should the “experience of the job” be payment enough?