Late last month, two workers involved in the making of the hit film "Black Swan" filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the film's production company, the successful indie filmmaker Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., used phony internships to avoid paying its workers minimum wage and overtime. The complaint brings several federal and state claims on behalf of the named plaintiffs, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, as well as other current and former employees of Fox Searchlight who suffered from similar unlawful pay arrangements. The complaint alleges that an important element of Fox Searchlight's success is reducing costs by using "a steady stream of unpaid interns" in place of paid employees. Thus, the complaint states that the class of workers wronged by Fox Searchlight will have more than one hundred members, and that the amount in controversy in the lawsuit will reach or exceed five million dollars.
Eric Glatt performed accounting duties for the Black Swan Accounting Department during production of from December 2009 through August of 2010. His work included reviewing and organizing personnel files, preparing expense spreadsheets and other documents, and delivering timesheets to Fox Searchlight's payroll service. The complaint alleges that Glatt initially worked full-time and later worked part-time. Glatt worked as many as 50 hours per week. Glatt claims that during his nine months of employment in the production of Black Swan, he was paid only once--for one twelve-hour Sunday shift. Glatt's supervisor thought that fairness required payment for that day. The complaint alleges that Glatt received no pay for the remainder of his time at the Accounting Department, received no college credit, and received no extraordinary training. Fox Searchlight classified his job as an unpaid internship.
Alexander Footman worked in the Production Office of Black Swan from October 2009 to February 2010. The complaint states that he regularly worked forty hours per week, and in some weeks as many as fifty hours. Footman performed the duties of a "gofer," making coffee, taking lunch orders, emptying the trash, running errands, and performing secretarial work. Footman received no pay for his work at the Production Office. He received neither college credit nor extraordinary training.
On this factual basis, the suit brings wage-and-hour and record-keeping claims. In particular, the suit alleges that by failing to pay the workers virtually anything at all, Fox Searchlight violated their statutory right to minimum wage and overtime pay, as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act and/or the New York Labor Law. For interns to prevail on these types of claims, the plaintiffs to show that their work was not a part of a vocational or training program. In this respect, both the advantages to the worker and to the employer are relevant. If a worker receives college credit or vocational training comparable to that which takes place in a college or trade school, he or she may be considered an intern who does not qualify for wage and hour protections.
If you have been misclassified and/or are not receiving proper compensation, you should contact a St. Louis overtime attorney.