After five years, a landmark lawsuit that prompted some Hollywood studios, production companies and networks to change their labor practices regarding unpaid interns is finally close to a settlement … that will net most of the beneficiaries less than a week’s pay.
Upon final approval of U.S. District Judge William Pauley in New York, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Entertainment Group Studios will sign three checks ranging from $3,500 to $7,500 for the lead plaintiffs, with more than 100 other complainants receiving less than $500. The lawyers on the case will bank nearly $220,000.
The settlement follows a litany of rulings and subsequent appeals that began with a lawsuit filed by Alex Footman and Eric Glatt, who worked on the 2010 film “Black Swan,” which netted star Natalie Portman a Best Actress Oscar. Fox Searchlight fired back that the interns never actually worked for them, but rather for director Darren Aronofsky.
“The studio had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s six-pointed guidelines for internships by using us to do the work of paid employees, failing to provide a structured learning element to the internship and basically profiting from free labor,” Footman said in a 2013 CNN op-ed.
“I was concerned that if I brought a case on what I was owed, Fox would forget about it before the ink was dry,” Glatt told TheWrap. “So I held out until I found a [law] firm who knew what to do so we could bring a class-action suit and really make a difference. But I didn’t expect it to be as big as it was.”
The eventually monstrous suit also included petitioners who interned on Fox Searchlight’s “(500) Days of Summer.” The snowball of allegations resulted in companies redefining their internship programs, as well as other lawsuits being filed against companies like Viacom and NBCUniversal, and an international cry for fair treatment of interns.
Although Glatt said Fox now pays its interns in both New York and Los Angeles, he also said there is still a lot of work to be done on the issue itself of intern rights and treatment. “In Hollywood, it continues to be a problem with independent producers, small production companies, and with those in production deals in the studios,” he added.
The movement extends beyond the entertainment industry. David Leo Hyde, a youth activist and filmmaker from Aotearoa, New Zealand, recently brought worldwide attention to intern rights after sleeping in a tent in Geneva while working as an unpaid intern for the United Nations. His experience is the focus of an upcoming film directed by Swiss filmmaker Nathalie Berger titled “An Unpaid Act,” examining how young people across the world are being exploited for cheap or free labor.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.