The New York Times
is reporting that two former interns who worked on the production of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan
are suing Fox Searchlight for violating minimum wage and overtime laws. Federal labor laws state that an unpaid internship require that " … the intern not displace regular employees, that the training received be similar to what would be given in an educational institution and that the employer derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities." Two plaintiffs in the case who say they made coffee, made sure the coffee pot was always full, took lunch orders, took out the trash, cleaned the office, prepared documents, and got a few signatures are arguing their rights were violated.
If these former interns can prove, in accordance with the law, that they did " … grunt work that should have been done by paid employees … " and that the internship " … did not provide them with the type of educational experience that labor rules require to exempt the company from paying interns … " then they have a case on their hands. Or do they? Haven't we all been there at one point, cleaning up after a meeting and doing things that have absolutely nothing to do with our job? Do these former interns actually have a case, because they did things that most Hollywood (and other) interns do? I'd also argue that their experience was educational. Hollywood jobs keep you for long hours. The lower down on the totem pole you are, the cruddier your job is. Everything rolls downhill.
If they were unhappy about stirring Natalie Portman's coffee cup, why didn't they just leave? More often than not, you take an unpaid internship because you don't have any other options. (Who are you people that can work for free all day? How do you pay your rent?) Sure, you hope to learn a few new things and observe the inner workings of whatever system you're trying to become a part of, but the expectation usually is that you'll do some menial task along the way. Not every internship is "abusive," however, and you're responsible for your own time. If you don't want to spend eight hours a day taking out the trash for free, then find another company who can appreciate your contributions.
Weigh in with your thoughts below.