Judge Rules Black Swan Interns Should Have Been Paid Employees

On June 11, 2013, a federal court in New York ruled against Fox Entertainment Group for misclassifying employees as unpaid interns. The lead plaintiffs worked for the company when it created and filmed the movie Black Swan. The court held that the interns were actually employees subject to both the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York state law.

The judge determined the work performed by the plaintiffs did not qualify as a bona fide training program in accordance with the six-factor test established by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). See Fact Sheet #71 Internships under the FLSA for more information. The judge found the plaintiffs’ work provided “an immediate advantage to their employer,” as it eliminated the need to pay someone to perform certain low-level tasks, and the work required no special training. The judge also determined that the benefits the plaintiffs’ received were merely a result of working for the company as a typical employee rather than being part of an internship “designed to be uniquely educational to the interns and of little utility to the employer.”

As part of this ruling, the court also granted class certification to a separate group of unpaid interns working in several other divisions of Fox Entertainment Group.

This case joins a growing number of claims filed against companies by their former, unpaid interns. Interns for Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar filed suit against parent company Hearst Corporation alleging they performed the duties of “messengers, delivery people, assistants, and secretaries.” In another high-profile lawsuit, TV personality Charlie Rose and his production company agreed to pay $250,000 to 189 former interns in settlement.

Contact MSEC with your questions or concerns about your organization’s internships.