Unpaid Internships on ‘Black Swan’ Violated the Law. So Are They Dead?

by  Jun 13, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

Is the unpaid internship dead?

That’s what corporate CEOs and employment law attorneys were trying to figure out Wednesday after a U.S. district court judge ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures had violated the law by not paying interns who worked on the film Black Swan.

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Unpaid internships consisting of mostly menial tasks may be on the way out. (Dimitri Vervitsiotis, via Getty)In a lacerating ruling, Judge William H. Pauley III found that had the interns not been hired to do the mostly remedial tasks they were assigned, paid employees would have been. Citing guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor, Pauley wrote that the benefits the plaintiffs received from the internship “were incidental to working in the office like any other employees and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them.”

“I thought it was great,” said Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute. “I thought the judge got right to the heart of the matter, that this was for the benefit of the corporation and wasn’t created to provide an educational experience for the intern. It is huge that this came from an important court, and the southern district court of New York is an important court.”

Most encouraging to Eisenbray and others is that Pauley cited the Department of Labor guidelines for determining whether an internship must be paid, which include stipulations that the internship be similar to what one would receive in an educational environment; that the internship be closely supervised; and that the intern not displace a paid worker. The guidelines also state that the internship must be primarily for the benefit of the intern and that “the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”

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