Nearly six months after the media giant thought it had a multimillion-dollar deal in the almost 2-year-old lawsuit, more former NBCUniversal interns have raised objections that could derail the whole thing.
“Working for NBCUniversal was once an amazing dream,” says former casting department intern Ursula Howzell in her March 6 objection letter (read it here) to the $6.4 million settlement announced October 22. “I then and continually feel that this entertainment company is a wonderful place – filled with a multitude of opportunities. Unfortunately, I do in fact, object and disagree with the amount – due to my creative contributions and efforts, which were much great than the $501.02 granted/offered by the defendant.”
In letters sent to class counsel Outten & Golden, Howzell and three other class members joined the dissent fellow ex-NBCU intern Dina Agusta expressed in mid-March. “I object to the settlement in the NBC Universal unpaid interns case,” said another former intern. Cheyenne Logan. in her objection letter with similar sentiments to what Agusta had written (read it here). “I believe the compensation for the settlement is too low. $499.00 does not compensate for my work and contribution I made while with NBCUniversal’s iVillage. I believe that I’m entitled to $1,914.00,” she states.
This case was first filed in July 2013 by ex-Saturday Night Live intern Monet Eliastam and ex-MSNBC intern Jesse Moore, who later withdrew from the case. Eliastam is set to receive $10,000 out of the settlement while the laws firm specializing in intern lawsuits could see a check of up to $1.4 million.
Before objections started rolling in, the deal had been given a December 15 preliminary approval by Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis. A final approval hearing scheduled for May 4 in federal court in NYC. However, with almost half a dozen challenges to the settlement and perhaps more to come, what was once seemingly a formality is now an arena of debate for the media giant, the lawyers and the judge. With such specific challenges, say in the case of Logan, that situation could see lawyers on both sides having to scramble to salvage this deal.
Objections in the NBCU case also come as questions are being raised by the judge in the $7.2 million settlement that Viacom has put on the table for its own interns lawsuit.
Two days after the proposed settlement was filed with the federal courts, Magistrate Gabriel Gorenstein on March 13 said he wanted more details from corporation’s lawyers about how the settlement fees were determined. The judge also wanted attorneys to tell him what would happen to the proposed deal if the Second Circuit makes a decision on the appeal by Fox over in the 2013 Black Swan case that started the slew of intern lawsuits against media companies. The March 11 Viacom settlement would see most of the approximately 12,5000-member class received $505 for each semester they participated in the company’s intern program.
And Viacom doesn’t seem too inclined to get too caught up in anything more than they’ve already proposed. “If the parties are unable to settle this action at this juncture, Viacom will submit evidence supporting its argument that the Interns are not entitled to recover any wages because they were properly classified as non-employees,” said the company’s lawyers Lyle S. Zuckerman and Michael J. Goettig in an April 3 dated letter urging the court approved the proposed settlement (read it here). “In the absence of a settlement, Viacom will submit evidence concerning the various educational and social activities made available to Interns, including those which provided Interns with ‘skills that are fungible within the industry’ and provided Interns the primary benefit of the relationship,’ they added, noting they felt confident of a win on decertification of the Fair Labor Standards Act case.
“In the unlikely event that the Second Circuit enters an order embracing the Hearst and Fox Searchlight plaintiffs’ position and endorsing the DOL’s rigid six-factor test, Plaintiffs here would find little comfort,” the Davis Wright Tremain LLP attorneys told Judge Gorenstein. “It would remain the case that the Interns’ experiences with Viacom were so individual and contingent upon, among other things, their respective locations, departments and supervisors, that class and collective treatment would simply not be feasible.” Two 3-Judge panels heard arguments in the Black Swan and Hearts cases in late January and all side are awaiting a decision.
Probably both sides wish everyone felt more like Diana Munoz from the NBCU case. “I think this case is unfair,” she wrote in her March 6 dated benign objection to that case’s settlement (read it here). “NBC is a great corporation and they will never mistreat student or employees. I believe one should value experience over monetary compensation.”