The Fox Searchlight case below is in the entertainment law realm. However, there are parallel ongoing fashion law claims with similarl legal issues that was discussed by Ghanaian-American attorney Tracy Agyemang here on Ladybrille. Be sure to revisit her article here for the full scoop on those cases.
In the meantime, every fashion and entertainment business/ entrepreneur in the USA who uses interns should pay attention to the case below.
“In a ruling that is likely to be well read throughout Hollywood and maybe corporate America at large, a federal judge on Tuesday has handed a couple of the interns suing Fox Searchlight a victory on summary judgment and also certified a class action over the internship programs of Fox Entertainment Group.
The lawsuit was first brought in late 2011 by two interns — Alex Footman and Eric Glatt — who both worked on Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan and claimed that the company’s unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.
The lawsuit then got bigger with amended claims brought by added named plainitffs such as Kanene Gratts, who worked on Searchlight’s 500 Days of Summer as well as Eden Antalik, who participated in the FEG internship program. To prevail, they would need to jump several hurdles, including showing that the training programs set up weren’t for the advantage of the trainees.
On Tuesday, federal judge William Pauley issued a ruling that is very favorable to the suing interns.
Regarding Footman and Glatt, the judge grants summary judgment to them that Searchlight was their “employer,” as that term is defined in the Fair Standards Labor Act and New York Labor Laws.
Fox attempted to convince Judge Pauley that the production companies — like Lake of Tiers Inc. instead of Searchlight — were responsible for hiring and controlling the interns, but the judge didn’t buy it. Judge Pauley writes that “Searchlight’s power to fire Black Swan production staff was unbridled,” that “Searchlight closely supervised work on Black Swan,” that “the crew of Black Swan was tied to Searchlight, not Lake of Tears,” and so forth.
The judge also looked at whether the internship program qualified as a bona fide training program under the Labor Department’s six criteria for determining whether an internship might be unpaid. These factors include whether the internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment, whether it is for the benefit of the intern, whether the intern displaces regular employees, whether the employer derives immediate advantage, whether the intern isn’t necessarily entitled to a job after the conclusion of the internship and the understanding about no entitlement to wages.
After going through the experiences of Footman and Glatt on Black Swan, here’s what Judge Pauley concludes:
“Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are ’employees’ covered by the FLSA and NYLL. They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and perfomed low-level tasks not requiring specialized training. The benefits they may have received — such as the knowledge of how a production or accounting office functions or references for future jobs — are the results of simply having worked as any other employee works, not of internships designed to be uniquely educational to the interns and of little utility to the employer. They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school. This is a far cry from [the Supreme Court’s decision in] Walling, where trainees impeded the regular business of the employer, worked only in their own interest and provided no advantage to the employer. Glatt and Footman do not fall within the narrow ‘trainee’ exception to the FLSA’s broad coverage.””
THR, Esq. has the full story.