Unpaid Internships: Are They Legal?
July 22 (Bloomberg) — How do you get a job without experience? How do you get experience without a job?
The answer for many years, in competitive media industries like journalism, publishing, television production, and filmmaking, has been unpaid internships. But have unpaid internships been violating labor laws? Law professor David Yamada says it’s been “a sleeping-giant issue for many years.”
A recent court decision may bring the issue to a head. Interns who worked on the movie “Black Swan” sued Fox Searchlight and won. The interns, ostensibly on the set to learn the ins and outs of filmmaking, learned more about the fine arts of organizing file cabinets, making photocopies, and taking lunch orders. Tasks that the court found “would have required paid employees” and gave Fox Searchlight “an immediate advantage.”
The Sixth Circuit found for the employer in a separate unpaid labor case, so if the “Black Swan” decision is affirmed on appeal, it could create a circuit court split. That raises the likelihood that interns won’t just be running around outside the Supreme Court; they might end up inside the courtroom too.