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Fox Searchlight faces a wage lawsuit from unpaid interns: Part I

In June, we wrote about an important employment issue that affects many Florida students and companies each year: unpaid internships. Employers are often ignorant of the requirements that must be met in order to legally provide an unpaid internship at a for-profit company.

Companies that treat their interns solely as a source of free labor could quickly find themselves in trouble with the US Department of Labor. If the problem appears systemic, interns may choose to file a class-action lawsuit against the employer for wage and hour violations.

That seems to be the case for at least two former unpaid interns who were trying to use their internship to gain experience in the movie industry. They both assisted in the production of the movie "Black Swan." The two have recently filed an open class-action lawsuit against the film's producer, Fox Searchlight Pictures.

One of the young men says that he worked on the set for six months and neither got paid nor gained any career help or experience. He added: "It was not a learning experience and that was what I had expected. This really just seemed like I was just working and wasn't getting paid for it."

The Department of Labor came up with a list of six criteria that must be met in order for an unpaid internship at a for-profit company to be legal and legitimate. The vice president of the Economic Policy Institute says that an internship's "essential ingredient is that it has to be for the benefit of the intern, not for the benefit of the employer."

One of the two interns says he ran errands and filed papers, and often worked next to paid employees doing the same work.

Check back later this week as we continue our discussion about unpaid internships and their potential for abuse.

Source: National Public Radio, "Unpaid Interns: Real World Work Or Just Free Labor?" Beenish Ahmed, Nov. 12, 2011

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