EXCLUSIVE: ICM Partners is moving fast to quash a potential class action suit brought by interns, Deadline has learned, that could shine the spotlight on one of Hollywood’s dirty, not-so-secret practices. ICM head of HR Karen Abrams began making a series of calls to former interns this week seeking information supporting ICM’s intern program. The move comes after Kimberly Behzadi and Jason Rindenau, the plaintiffs and former interns filed a motion in federal court on Tuesday for reclassification (read it here) of the suit. If granted, it could reveal how much work essentially unpaid assistants perform at ICM and other agencies while they’re seeking academic credit — a practice that runs afoul of labor laws. “We do not comment on on-going litigation,” an ICM spokesperson said today.
ICM’s lawyers filed in late July to get the matter dismissed and moved to arbitration. But Abrams is now contacting former interns before Behzadi and Rindenau’s attorneys do. “She was reading what was obviously a prepared script given to her by someone, their lawyers, I would assume,” one ex-ICM intern said after talking to the agency VP this week. This person had not been contacted by the plaintiffs’ lawyers but only Abrams so far. “She said that a group of former interns had filed a lawsuit against ICM claiming that they were actually employees and demanding unpaid wages as well as attorneys’ fees and other damages,” the former ingtern told Deadline. “She said that ICM had retained lawyers and would be defending themselves against the suit, and that their lawyers were going to be contacting all their former interns next week in order to find interns to depose who can give information about ICM’s program.”
Earlier this summer, Abrams had submitted an affidavit to the court supporting ICM’s motion to dismiss.
This is the latest in a series of intern actions that have battered the media and entertainment industry since the potentially game-changing June 11, 2013 ruling that unpaid interns on the Darren Aronofsky-directed Black Swan were actually employees. That matter is still before the courts.
First filed on June 17, the action against ICM is now seeking to include all those who participated in the agency’s intern program from August 26, 2011 until “the date of final judgment in this action,” said this week’s classification order motion. With ICM Partners generally having three intern sessions annually of about 40 participants each, that could reach into the hundreds for the potential class action. ICM did not have an intern program in Fall 2013 or Spring 2014.
Behzadi, who was an itern at ICM’s NYC offices from January-May 2012 and a floater assistant from November to mid-December 2012, recounts in her initial complaint that interns at ICM performed many of the duties of regular employees without the benefit of being paid. Unsurprising to anyone who has ever been to an agency, others I spoke to confirm interns’ actual duties. “We had a once-a-week lunch lecture from agents on what working at an agency was really about, so I guess that fulfilled the academic requirements,” one former intern at ICM in 2013 told me. “Other than that, it was getting coffee, data entry, scheduling and taking calls.”
Another former ICM intern alleges being assigned the work of a paid assistant after that person was pink-slipped. “I even started handling certain emails using the assistant’s email address after I started taking over the tasks from the assistant that was fired,” the ex-intern said. “All of those things are tasks that a paid assistant should be doing. And I think it is fair to say that a lot of those things would translate to all interns around Hollywood.
“Is every single agency, studio, and production company in this town violating the law when it comes to internships?” the source added. “Of course they are. The trade-off for the interns is that having an internship is the best way to make contacts who can get you an actual job.”
It also can, as ICM Partners is finding out, can get you a lawsuit.
Justin Swartz, Rachel Bien and Sally Abrahamson of NYC’s top labor-issues firm Outten & Golden are representing the plaintiffs and any future additions to the suit. Swartz is also handing legal duties on a class action launched against NBCUniversal by a former MSNBC intern and an ex-Saturday Night Live intern. Elise Michelle Bloom and Steven Hurd of Proskauer Rose’s NYC office and Michelle Annese of the firm’s Newark office represent ICM in this matter.