Two former Black Swan interns today got a big legal boost in their favor against Fox Searchlight. In a dense order issued Tuesday, a federal judge in New York granted Alex Footman and Eric Glatt a summary judgment (read it here) saying they were in fact treated as Fox employees in their internship under the definitions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. Perhaps more importantly for Hollywood at large, Judge William Pauley III also certified a class action that will look at the way the intern programs at Fox really work and whether they actually provide educational experience. Fox obviously does not like either decision. “We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible,” it said in a statement Tuesday.
Fox may disagree with what he ordered, but the judge was clear in his definitions. In Pauley’s view what Footman and Glatt were actually doing while on director Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film wasn’t particularly educational. “The benefits they may have received — such as knowledge of how a production or accounting office functions or references for future jobs — are the results of simply having worked as any other employee works, not of internships designed to be uniquely educational to the interns and of little utility to the employer. They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school,” Pauley wrote in the 36-page order.
Footman and Glatt first launched their case back in September 2011 on behalf of themselves and more than 100 Fox Searchlight interns. They sought back wages from the Fox specialty label for work they believe they should have been paid for. Their suit sought to stop what the plaintiffs said was the studio’s incorrect use of students for what is supposed to be training similar to that provided by an educational institution — not getting coffee and other grunt work. The studio eventually fired back that the two were never actually Fox Searchlight interns and that they were actually working for Aronofsky’s production company. Last August, the plaintiffs attempted to expand the scope of their suit to include all interns who participated in Fox Entertainment Group’s internship program.
In a bit of sideshow to that attempt, another plaintiff who joined the case in 2012 was not as fortunate as Footman and Glatt with today’s ruling. Fox was granted its motion that the claims Kanene Gratts, who worked 2009’s Searchlight co-produced (500) Days Of Summer, were time-barred.
Footman and Glatt are represented by Rachel Bein and Adam T. Klein of New York firm Outten & Golden LLP. The attorneys have now become class counsel in the suit.