U.S. District Court Rules Fox Violated Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws by Not Paying “Black Swan” Interns – Los Angeles Wage & Hour Claims Attorneys Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik

by Norman B. Blumenthal on July 1, 2013

MovieEvery year, every semester, up to 1 million students take unpaid internships to get a foot in the door.  With the recent recession, the path of internship has also become a route for downsized and older workers to jump start stagnant careers.  Sadly, interns are often not paid or paid wages below the minimum wage.  A U.S. District Court, however, has recently ruled that in the case of Fox Searchlight Pictures, who produced the Oscar nominated film “Black Swan,” the company’s interns qualified for minimum wage and overtime pay.

According to U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III, the interns who filed the lawsuit should have received pay for their work because they performed the same work as regular employees, such as organizing filing cabinets, tracking purchase orders, and drafting cover letters.  "Undoubtedly Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman received some benefits from their internships, such as resume listings, job references and an understanding of how a production office works," Judge Pauley wrote. "But those benefits were incidental to working in the office like any other employees and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them."

Though this decision may eventually be overturned on appeal, especially by the current pro-business U.S. Supreme Court, employers are now reviewing their internship programs to prevent similar lawsuits.  As a guidance for employers, the United States Department of Labor has established a 6-factor Fact Sheet to assist in determining whether an individual is a paid or unpaid intern.

  1. The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

While all of these factors do not have to be present, the more factors that are present  the more likely the worker can be treated as an unpaid since the worker, and not the employer, is the primary beneficiary of the arrangements.

Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik is an experienced California employment law firm with offices located in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The firm dedicates its practice to contingency fee employment law work for issues involving misclassification as a salaried worker exempt from overtime, failure to pay vacation wages, misclassification as an independent contractor, off-the-clock work, wrongful termination, discrimination and other California labor laws.

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