Tag Archives: Alex Footman

Unpaid Interns Win Lawsuit Against Fox

“[Fox Searchlight Pictures] received the benefits of their unpaid work, which otherwise would have required paid employees.” – Judge William H. Pauley III on the suit brought against Fox by Eric Glatt ’91 (below) and Alex Footman ’09

Eric Glatt '91

In September 2011, we posted about two Wesleyan alumni, Alex Footman ’09 and Eric Glatt ’91 who brought a class-action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures. The two argued that, when they interned on the set of Black Swan, they performed menial tasks exclusively that had no educational value. By law, unpaid internships must provide some sort of educational experience and cannot simply be used to replace paid employees with unpaid labor. The two interns argued that they had not received the educational experience they should have gotten from the experience.

Just recently, Federal District Court Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that, as Fox Searchlight Pictures treated the workers as if they were regular paid employees and did not provide any sort of educational value to the internship, the interns should have been paid. The judge explained his logic to The Hollywood Reporter

NYT on Unpaid Internships and Their Discontents—After Graduation

Lee ’10: “If I ever become a famous filmmaker, I promise I will pay my interns.”

Wesleyan is in the New York Times this weekend. So are unpaid internships. It’s not what you think.

First there was the story of Alex Footman ’09, the aspiring filmmaker and Wesleyan graduate who served as unpaid production intern on the set of Black Swan in 2009 and later brought a highly publicized open class-action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures for labor exploitation. (Footman penned a New York Times op-ed in February, imploring the Labor Department to “take this matter seriously and step in to enforce its regulations.”) Then there was Lucy Bickerton ’08, the latest Wesleyan alumnus to turn an entertainment industry internship into a well-publicized lawsuit. Bickerton interned for PBS interviewer Charlie Rose in 2007. She “did everything an employee does except collect a paycheck,” she now claims. So, half a decade later, she’s suing for the minimum wage compensation she says she is owed.

The latest New York Times piece, headlined “Jobs Few, Grads Flock to Unpaid Internships,” casts an eye on the circumstances that lead to these lawsuits. It mentions Eric Glatt, the 40-year-old intern who sued Fox Searchlight with Footman, but not Footman himself or Bickerton. Its point: unpaid internships are no longer the domain of the summer vacation. Rather, in this job market, “many college graduates who expected to land paid jobs are turning to unpaid internships to try to get a foot in an employer’s door.” And today, postcollege internships are available not only in nonprofit work, but also in “fashion houses, book and magazine publishers, marketing companies, public relations firms, art galleries, talent agencies,” and even some law firms.

It doesn’t take journalist Steven Greenhouse ’73 long to arrive at the exploitative side of the practice. (Edit: frequent commenter John Wesley writes in to let me know that the article’s author is an alumnus as well.]

Footman ’09 on Unpaid Internships, Labor Exploitation

Debate: is it time for the unpaid intern to rise up?

Most students leave their unpaid internships with a few bullet points on a resume, maybe a letter of recommendation—standard mementos from a few months spent running errands or exploring the sensual world of data entry. Not so for Alex Footman ’09, who emerged from his internship on the set of Black Swan with an open class-action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures and national media coverage. Not bad for a lowly intern, eh?

We reported on the lawsuit in November, when NPR picked up the story. The gist of it is simple: Footman, an aspiring filmmaker, claims that his six-month internship with Black Swan was nothing more than unpaid labor (preparing coffee, taking lunch orders, running errors); that “it was not a learning experience” or one that advanced his career in any way; and that Fox Searchlight had broken minimum wage and overtime laws by using unpaid interns without providing any educational value in return. (Labor laws presently permit employers to hire unpaid interns as long as they provide a reasonably valuable educational experience in return.)

So he’s suing not only to be paid for the hours he worked, but also to prevent Fox Searchlight from using intern labor in the future.

That about brings us to this week, when Footman penned a New York Times op-ed arguing for increased government regulation of unpaid internships and active enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act. “The expectation that interns can regulate this practice,” Footman claims, “is absurd.” They have, after all, neither the work experience nor the legal expertise to rail against a system that’s exploiting them: