Unpaid Interns Win Another Victory Against Employers

Posted by Edward Sharkey on Tue, 03/03/2015 - 05:00

We previously posted about the wave of litigation concerning the use of unpaid interns. It started with a lawsuit filed by individuals who interned on the set of the Fox Searchlight film “Black Swan.” In June 2013, a federal trial court in New York ruled in the interns’ favor, holding that they had been misclassified and were employees entitled to pay under federal law. Fox has appealed that ruling.

A month after the trial court’s decision in the “Black Swan” case, interns who worked on the set of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” filed a similar claim for wages. In the most significant development since the June 2013 “Black Swan” decision, NBC has recently agreed to pay $6.4 million to settle those claims. As a result of the settlement, no court will have the opportunity to decide the merits of the NBC interns’ case.

Businesses continue to anxiously await a ruling in the “Black Swan” appeal. The appellate court is expected to decide whether courts assessing unpaid interns’ wage claims should defer to guidelines issued by the Department of Labor or apply some different standard. Although courts in jurisdictions other than New York will not be bound by the Fox appellate decision, and that decision would be subject to review by the Supreme Court, the pending decision will give valuable guidance to businesses.

In the meantime, the law concerning the use of unpaid interns continues to be unsettled, and businesses should remain wary of using them unless it is strictly in accord with the DOL guidelines.

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