An Oscar-winning movie was the backdrop for a recent federal court decision that serves as a strong caution for employers. A federal court ruled that two unpaid production interns on the set of the movie “Black Swan” actually “worked as paid employees” and were misclassified as unpaid interns.
The complaint was filed by Eric Glatt and Alex Footman, and alleged violations of federal and New York wage and hour laws. “Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns are a crucial labor force on its productions, functioning as production assistants and bookkeepers and performing secretarial and janitorial work,” the interns stated in their complaint. Fox Searchlight “has been able to reduce its film production costs by employing a steady stream of unpaid interns.”
The court ruled that the workers were not bona fide interns, but actually employees performing the same types of tasks that paid production assistants performed. The court looked at a variety of factors to find that the workers were not interns:
- There was no internship experience structured to benefit them. Although the two production workers received some benefits, such as resume listings, job references and an understanding of how a production office works, these benefits were the same as any other employee would obtain and were not the result of an internship intentionally structured for their benefit
- The workers did not receive any formal training or education during the internship
- The workers performed basic administrative tasks that would have been performed by regular employees, such as filing, taking lunch orders, removing garbage and running errands
Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content
Do you have unpaid “interns” working for you this summer? HRCalifornia subscribers can turn to the HR Library’s Interns page and this easy to follow Q&A for guidance. Not a subscriber? Start a Free Trial now.