Unpaid Interns File Federal Wage Lawsuit in Boston

A recent lawsuit alleges that 20th Century Fox, the company that produced the psychological thriller “Black Swan,” failed to pay two former interns who worked on the movie. The suit claims the interns were unpaid in violation of state and federal wage laws.

According to a 2010 fact sheet produced by the U.S. Department of Labor, the agency set up guidelines to ensure that companies are following federal labor laws with the hiring of unpaid interns.
Our Boston employment lawyers recognize that internships are an important part of preparing for the labor force not only for college students, but for high schoolers as well. And the fall and winter months are often the time these young people begin looking for summer opportunities to learn the skills in their field of study.

But this also doesn’t mean that companies can take advantage of these young people and violate Massachusetts wage laws simply because they are offering experience. There are laws that are applied to any workplace setting and they must be followed.

The Department of Labor wrote that interns in the private, for-profit sector are considered workers unless they are considered trainees. If they are employees, they must be paid at least minimum wage and overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week.

Here are the guidelines for situations where an intern can be considered a “trainee” or working for their own interest:

  • The internship is similar to training in an educational environment.
  • The experience benefits the intern.
  • The intern doesn’t replace regular employees, but works with existing staff.
  • The employer gets no benefit from the intern’s activities and actually sometimes impedes corporate function.
  • The intern isn’t necessarily guaranteed a job at the end of the internship.
  • The employer and intern understand the intern isn’t to be paid.

In the Black Swan case, two interns filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in New York on behalf of unpaid interns everywhere. Federal and state standards must be complied with by employers who seek interns to help their understaffed departments. And students who crave real-world experience s boost to their resumes must still be treated fairly.

While employers and interns see this setup as a win-win situation, our Boston employment lawyers can assist a company in ensuring they are in legal compliance. And we stand ready to assist interns who believe they have been treated unfairly. In the case of unpaid interns, they often get stuck doing the kind of work that a person would get paid to do as an entry-level job. In many cases, the intern gets no real experience to help their studies, but the company gets free labor for a matter of weeks or months.

The lawsuit alleges that the film only cost $13 million to make on the backs of interns who were production assistants, bookkeepers and performed janitorial and secretarial jobs for the company. The movie grossed $300 million at the box office.

A Boston business law firm, The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call Attorney Graeme Brown at 617-489-0817 or contact us through this website.

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