“[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
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:
“I hope this lawsuit will help reverse the trend of unpaid internships replacing entry level opportunities.”
What is it with unpaid interns these days? Specifically, ones who graduated from Wesleyan. With film degrees. Between 2008 and 2009. And want to go into the entertainment industry. In New York. They’re going mad.
Or just demanding what is rightfully theirs.
Earlier this year, we reported on the Curious Case of Alex Footman ’09, an unpaid intern on the set of Black Swan who is seeking legal action against Fox Searchlight Pictures for what he regards as improper and illegal internship hiring. He is even seeking an injunction against Fox Searchlight for hiring similarly uncompensated interns in the future. When Footman penned a New York Times op-ed supporting stricter government oversight of unpaid internships, I posed the question: are unpaid internships necessarily exploitative? How can they be made fairer? Can they?
Lucy Bickerton ’08 is the latest Wesleyan alumnus to register her frustration with the unpaid internship system, specifically of the film and entertainment industry variety. Bickerton, a documentary filmmaker, is taking legal action against PBS interviewer Charlie Rose after interning for him in 2007, the summer before her senior year at Wes:
She says she toiled away 25 hours a week from June to August 2007, researching for the host, putting press packets together, escorting the guests and cleaning up after the show.
Bickerton, who went into documentary filmmaking after she graduated in 2008, did everything an employee does except collect a paycheck, she says in the suit. State law prohibits unpaid interns unless they are being trained and not performing in place of paid employees.
Sound familiar? Nearly five years later, Bickerton claims she was entitled to compensation of at least minimum wage of $6.75 to $7.15. Appropriately, Bickerton’s lawyer says she “sought legal advice after hearing that others who had worked for no pay as interns in the media industry had sued the Hearst and Fox organizations.” Go Wes. I decided to contact Bickerton to figure out her own perspective on the suit—and what it means for Wes students. Read on for a brief interview.