Unpaid Interns Seeking Class-Action Status Against Fox Entertainment Group

August 25th, 2012

I have previously blogged about Eric Glatt–a former 40-year-old intern who worked without pay for Fox Entertainment Group on the “Black Swan” movie–who is seeking class-action status, alleging that employing unpaid interns violates the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Recently, the district court allowed Glatt leave to file a motion to amend the suit to expand the plaintiff class. While this order doesn’t speak to the merits of the class, I worry about the effects of such a ruling.

Glatt, unsurprisingly, is not concerned. In fact, he wants to see the unpaid internship vanish!

“I want to see the practice ended,” Glatt told The Huffington Post. “I think unpaid internships are extremely detrimental to the labor market, and especially pernicious in creative industries.”

Glatt said that he feels a big problem with unpaid internships is that they disrupt the labor market for entry-level workers by forcing people at the beginning of their careers to work for no pay and suppressing wages for people who have been on the job for several years.

Why would a forty-year old take an unpaid position, I asked myself? That just strikes me as a tad, odd.

Glatt said that he felt uncomfortable with the idea of providing free labor when he first signed up to be an intern on “Black Swan.” But after working in the insurance industry for years, he was trying to to get into the film business. Everyone he asked for advice told him that unpaid internships were a necessary stepping stone on the path to paid work. He felt excited enough about becoming a filmmaker that he agreed to suck it up — for a while.

“I thought it was just one of those unjust things that I couldn’t do anything about as an individual,” Glatt said.

And I’m sure Glatt will have a long career in Hollywood because of his suit.

Glatt said he knew that by suing, he was risking being excluded from working in the film industry forever and that this had likely kept scores of other interns from suing in the past. But he said his desire to change the labor market in a real way outweighed his aspirations to work in film.

“I knew that even if I made it — and became a journeyman, working editor, I could make a decent living. I have friends like that,” he said. “But it would have taken doing years of these unpaid internships, which I knew were so unjust, and I just wouldn’t have been able to sit through quietly. Especially knowing that I had a chance of making a difference. The one thing I can’t stifle is my voice.”

If you are not comfortable taking a position that does not pay, and has a very, very, very slim chance of leading to full-time employment, do not take the job. Don’t do it.

And you want to take a guess at what Glatt is up to next? I’ll give you a hint. It is a job that requires you to do a lot of stuff for free while accumulating debt before you can make a living.

Glatt, meanwhile, has become so invested in the fight for labor rights that he plans to enroll in Georgetown Law in a matter of weeks.

I would wager that a person working as an unpaid intern at the age of 40 does not have a lot of savings. I would also wager he probably has a lot of debt.

Going to Georgetown Law, and living in Washington, will likely set him back $200,000 more in debt. I am almost certain that at some point, he will be asked to work without pay. And I hope the second he has a gripe about the legal profession, he abstains from filing suit against any law firm crazy enough to hire him. Or, I gather that any firm that wants to hire this guy will Google him, figure out his litigiousness, and say, pass.

For more of my rants on interns, see here, here, here,  herehere, and here.