Employers and attorneys alike are carefully monitoring the rising tide of class action litigation related to unpaid internships. Recently, former unpaid interns have filed suit against Fox Searchlight Pictures, producers of “The Charlie Rose Show,” [1] and Hearst Corporation, [2] which publishes the chic woman’s fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar.  The details of the cases very, but each Plaintiff purports to represent a class of persons who were intentionally misclassified as unpaid interns, but were in reality used as a free workforce by their employers.

Recently in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc., et al., [3], the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted class certification and then summary judgment to two former interns from the movie The Black Swan, a 2010 psychological thriller revolving around a production of Tchaikovsky’s play of the same name starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. The Glatt Court issued employers a reminder that the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) define “employ” broadly and generally require that “internships in the ‘for-profit’ private sector will most often be viewed as employment” unless the FLSA’s test for unpaid interns is met.

Although the epicenter of the litigation has been the New York City entertainment industry, businesses around the country who offer unpaid internships should take note. Often in business litigation, as goes the New York Southern District, so goes the nation.  Thus, the outcomes of these cases may be indicative of things to come.  For those seeking guidance, a good place to start is Department of Labor Fact Sheet # 71: “Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act” published by Wage and Hour Division[4].  But beware; the legal landscape surrounding unpaid internships is fast changing and it may leave many interns dancing all the way to the bank.

[1] Bickerton v. Rose. 650680/2012 (Bickerton v Rose)

[2] Hearst Lawsuit (Wang v Hearst)

[3] Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc., et al., 2013 WL 2495140 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (Glatt v Fox),

[4] Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act. (Fact Sheet #71)