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Unpaid Internship Practices Targeted by Black Swan Lawsuit

Sep 29, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Two interns who worked on the blockbuster hit movie "Black Swan" are out to change the way the movie industry treats unpaid interns.  According to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan against Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio's treatment of unpaid interns violates federal and state labor laws.

Plaintiff Eric Glatt of Brooklyn, New York, was supposed to be an accounting intern for "Black Swan", while Alexander Footman of Takoma Park, Maryland, came aboard as a production intern.  But both claim they didn't learn much about the movie business, and instead were assigned menial tasks that should have been given to paid employees like janitors and secretaries.

According to a report from The New York Times, federal labor law requires that unpaid interns receive training similar to what would be given in an educational institution, and that companies that utilize such interns gain no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.  Their work also may not displace paid employees.

“The only thing I learned on this internship was to be more picky in choosing employment opportunities,” Footman told the Times.

Footman's and Glatt's lawsuit alleges that Fox Searchlight’s practices with respect to unpaid interns violate the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law (NYLL).  The lawsuit seeks minimum wage rate for all hours worked, overtime for the hours that they work over 40 in a workweek, and spread of hours pay on days on which they work more than 10 hours.   It also seeks an injunction against the studio for improperly using unpaid interns on future projects, as well as class action status on behalf of more than 100 unpaid interns on various Fox Searchlight productions.

Glatt's and Footman's lawyer told the Times that their lawsuit would be the first of several  that seek to fight these internship practices.

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