A New York judge's ruling that Fox Searchlight interns are entitled to be paid for their work should "serve as a warning" to employers seeking free labor under the umbrella of unpaid internships, one of the plaintiffs who worked as on the film "Black Swan" said on Wednesday.
"This decision should serve as a warning to employers across the country," Eric Glatt said in a statement issued by Outten & Golden LLP, the law firm representing the plaintiffs.
"You cannot simply slap the term 'intern' on a job description and think that relieves you of the legal and ethical obligation to pay wages for the labor that helps your organization succeed."
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III found that Glatt and fellow "Black Swan" intern Alexander Footman were entitled to pay for their work on the film under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York labor law.
Pauley also determined that Eden Antalik, who worked as an unpaid intern at Fox Searchlight's corporate offices in New York, can pursue class-action claims against the company.
In his ruling, Pauley determined that the interns "performed tasks that would have required paid employees … Menial as it was, their work was essential. The fact they were beginners is irrelevant … [T]he FLSA does not allow employees to waive their entitlement to wages."
Fox Searchlight said Thursday that it's "very disappointed" in the judge's decision. "We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement
Rachel M. Bein, one of the attorneys representing the interns, said that Pauley's order emphasizes that unpaid internships are only valid if they are "part of a real training program."
"This important ruling re-affirms that unpaid internships are not lawful unless they are part of a real training program that involves much more than just learning on the job, and they are not lawful if the interns' work provides a direct benefit to the company. It also emphasizes the importance of allowing interns to band together in class actions and challenge companies' illegal unpaid internship policies."
The lawsuit was filed in 2011.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.