Class-Action: Unpaid Interns Change Their Tune

Men at work (…for free)

The days of unpaid internships might finally be coming to an end. In what many see as the next chip to fall, Warner Music Group and Atlantic Records are being sued by former interns who were uncommonly compensated for their time at the group. Justin Henry, who worked for Atlantic from 2007-2008, represents the class action lawsuit filed in the state of New York, claiming he was improperly classified as an unpaid intern. Federal labor laws state that Henry was technically an employee and would have him at least making minimum-wage. Interns in this field often worked from 10am-6pm and were sometimes asked to stay later, yet they never received proper compensation.

A similar case involving unpaid interns was just brought against Fox Searchlight over “employees” who worked on the film Black Swan. In that case, the interns alleged that federal labor laws were actually violated and the plaintiffs were seeking damages. Justin Henry and his group are merely suggesting that labor laws in New York do not classify them as interns, but rather as full-fledged employees. Working over 40 hours a week, which Justin an his colleagues often did, would potentially kick in over-time pay as well. This is the first class-action lawsuit of this kind filed in the music industry, meaning it has reached most venues of the entertainment business.

The idea of “unpaid interns” is something that will continue to make waves into a legal environment, hopefully sooner rather than later. It has become a common practice for larger companies in big cities such as New York, Atlanta, Dallas and more to bring in interns to complete a majority of low-importance task with the trade-off that they are receiving a great opportunity to improve their resume and experience life in a working environment. Though apparently a commonplace idea, it leads one to wonder about labor laws and practicality. If a company can bring in 12 people for the cost of less than 2, and claim that they can receive “great opportunities” and “boost their resume”, what is stopping them? Hopefully these cases coming to prominence will put an end to young college graduates and hopeful employees working for free.

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