Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures: Federal Court Rules Against Unpaid Internships

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Unpaid internships, a staple ritual for ambitious resumé builders, were dealt a blow this week, as a New York federal judge ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws when it failed to pay interns who worked on the movie Black Swan. See Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, No. 11-6784 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2013) (order re summary judgment and certification motions, available here).

While numerous other cases have argued that interns ought to be paid, Glatt appears to be the first decision to adopt this argument, after rigorously reasoning through the applicable six-part test. See order at 20-26. While not every factor weighed strongly in favor of finding the plaintiffs entitled to pay, Judge William H. Pauley III concluded that the plaintiffs “were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are ‘employees’ covered by the FLSA,” and that “[t]he benefits they may have received—such as 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.” Order at 26.

Though the decision arose in the context of the entertainment industry, where unpaid internships have for some time gained neophytes entrée to an elite field with virtually limitless long-run income prospects, the decision’s wide media coverage suggests that a major re-think might be underway in all fields that make use of unpaid interns, including politics, high tech, and fashion. Interns who have gone on to major accomplishments in diverse fields include Steve Jobs (Hewlett-Packard), Bill Gates and Patrick Ewing (U.S. Congress), Anderson Cooper (CIA), and Steven Spielberg (Universal Studios).

Eric Glatt, the lead plaintiff, has an MBA from Case Western Reserve University and is currently in law school at Georgetown University. No doubt having already helped shape a major legal issue will assist Glatt in the increasingly competitive atmosphere around landing highly-paid summer associate positions during law school.