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Posted: September 30th, 2011
By: Anna Gaysynsky
Two interns who worked on the academy award-winning film “Black Swan” are suing the producer for violating minimum wage laws. They are seeking class-action status for their suit, so they can litigate on behalf of all the unpaid interns on various Fox Searchlight productions. The lawsuit claims that many of the “unpaid interns” working on movie productions are misclassified employees, who are given menial work that should be done by paid employees, rather than the educational assignments that would exempt production companies from having to pay them. One intern working on the “Black Swan” production listed “taking out the trash” and “cleaning the office” among the duties he was expected to preform, and concluded that he didn’t learn anything from the internship.
The plaintiffs in the suit are seeking back pay under wage laws and also trying to get an injunction barring the production company from improperly using unpaid interns. The suit claims that Fox Searchlight broke the law because it did not meet the Labor Department’s criteria for unpaid internships, which require that the interns receive training that is similar to what they would receive in an educational institution and that the employer derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities. Movie companies claim that the unpaid internships are highly educational and are an important way for young people to break into the industry, but the plaintiffs claim that the internships were basically just a way for production companies to get free labor.
Lawyers say the Labor department officials rarely enforce the rules governing unpaid internships, and that interns themselves are usually too afraid to protest exploitive practices for fear that doing so will affect their ability to secure a job in the future.
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