I have previously written about unpaid internships and why most unpaid internships are illegal. A New York Federal District Court recently ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a high profile Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Laws suit. Two production interns on the movie Black Swan were hired as unpaid interns. The individuals sued the Black Swan production company claiming that the unpaid internships were illegal and the interns were owed at least minimum wage for all hours worked as well as time and a half for any hour worked over 40 in a workweek.
The judge went through the Department of Labor’s six factor test to determine whether the unpaid internship was legal under the DOL regulations. The judge ruled that the evidence showed that the plaintiffs’ job duties did not meet the requirements for a legal unpaid internship. The plaintiffs did not receive receive any formal training or education during their internship other than skills specific to the Black Swan production office. The plaintiffs received some benefits from their internships, such as resume listings, job references, and an understanding of how a production office works, but those benefits were incidental to working in the office like any other employee and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them. The plaintiffs performed routine tasks that would otherwise have been performed by regular, paid employees. The production company obtained an immediate advantage from the plaintiffs’ work. There was no evidence that the plaintiffs were entitled to jobs at the end of their internships or thought they would be and even though the plaintiffs understood they would not be paid it is irrelevant because the FLSA does not allow employees to waive their entitlement to wages.
Because the production company could not show that the internships passed the six factor test, the unpaid interns should have been paid at least the minimum wage for all hours worked and time and a half for hours over 40 in a work week.
Unpaid internships are very common and there is a very good chance that your unpaid internship is illegal. Many industries use (abuse) the unpaid intern model.The entertainment industry is notorious for their use of unpaid internships. Misguided concepts like “paying your dues” allow unscrupulous employers to get away with millions in unpaid wages. More and more cities and states are trying to attract the tv and movies to come shoot in their locals. Atlanta and Georgia as a whole are getting a lot of movies and tv shows to come and shoot here. If you are working in the Atlanta/Georgia film and television industry as an unpaid intern you may be owed unpaid wages and unpaid overtime.
If you have worked an unpaid internship then you need to speak with an attorney about any possible rights or remedies you may have. If you are in the State of Georgia contact Attorney Ben Kandy.