When students sign up for an unpaid internship, they pretty much know what they're getting into. They take the financial hit and accept being poor for that summer (apart from having a second job and/or being subsidized by their parents) in order to gain experience and an extra feather in their resume's cap in exchange for their labor, which sometimes isn't even remotely related to their field of study.
Such was the case for two students, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, whose duties as interns at Fox Searchlight Pictures included ordering lunch, answering phone calls and taking out the garbage while working on the set of "Black Swan," according to Forbes staff writer Susan Adams. Priceless experience, no doubt.
None of this may come as a surprise to you, the reader, simply because all of it has been accepted for so long. The prospect of being someone's helper as much as their intern has been seen as a rite of passage for years, until now.
Last Tuesday, a federal judge in New York ruled that Fox unlawfully employed Glatt and Footman and broke legislation that dates back to the 1930s, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set basic rules that have given us the 40-hour work week and minimum wage.
Traditionally, internships were allowed to get around minimum wage laws if they met these six criteria laid out by the U.S. Department of Labor, which were used to ensure that unpaid employment was strictly geared towards instructing and benefiting the intern. For years, employers haven't acted by these rules, though, and now people are taking notice.
Just two days after Fox was ruled against in court, Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib filed a suit against Conde Nast Publications, which owns W Magazine and the New Yorker, amongst other publications. The lawsuit comes after Ballinger says she was paid just $12 dollars a day (presumably for transportation), while Leib says he was made a maximum of $500 for each internship he had with the New Yorker, according to Reuters' Amanda Becker.
One Lawyer expects such retaliation from interns to become a trend across the country.
"This trend is probably going to expand beyond media companies and beyond New York," Laura O'Donnell, a lawyer at San Antonio based Haynes & Boone, told Becker. "I think employers in all industries across the country need to take note."
Another lawyer, Juno Turner of Outten & Golden, which is the lawfirm behind both lawsuits mentioned in this article, was more blunt in summarizing how some interns are feeling.
"They're standing up and saying: 'I've had enough of this.'"