Court Holds That Black Swan Unpaid Interns Were “Employees” Under Federal And New York Wage Laws

This week the Southern District of New York held, in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc., 2013 WL 2495140 (SDNY June 11, 2013), that two unpaid interns who worked on the movie Black Swan in New York were “employees” under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law (NYLL).

Citing and applying the six factors (identified in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Internship Fact Sheet) bearing on the determination of whether defendants’ internship program qualified for the “trainee” exclusion from minimum wage and overtime requirements, the court held:

Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are “employees” covered by the FLSA and NYLL. They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and performing low-level tasks not requiring specialized training. The 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. They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school.  This is a far cry from [the situation] where trainees impeded the regular business of the employer, worked only in their own interest, and provided no advantage to the employer. Glatt and Footman do not fall within the narrow “trainee” exception to the FLSA’s broad coverage.

The court also granted motions for class certification of NYLL claims and conditional certification of an FLSA collective action.