There is one fewer potential intern class action against one less media company now. Almost a year and a half after Monet Eliastam filed a proposed class action complaint against NBCUniversal, the former Saturday Night Live intern and the Comcast-owned giant have finalized a deal.
“Subject to Court approval, Plaintiffs Monet Eliastam, Alexander Vainer, and Rheanna Behuniak (“Plaintiffs”) and Defendant NBCUniversal Media, LLC (“Defendant” or “NBCUniversal”) (together with Plaintiffs, the “Parties”) have settled this wage-and-hour class and collective action for a maximum amount of $6,400,000,” said court docs filed Wednesday in federal court in New York (read it here). Eliastam was originally joined in the initial complaint by ex-MSNBC intern Jesse Moore but Moore withdrew. The others joined later.
If everything is approved, the plaintiffs’ lawyers at labor-issues firm Outten & Golden will get $1.184 million from the settlement. Unsurprisingly, that’s a lot more than the plaintiffs will see. “Class Counsel will move for Court approval of the Service Payments of $10,000 to Plaintiff Monet Eliastam, $5,000 to Plaintiffs Alexander Vainer, and Rheanna Behuniak and $2,000 to Opt-In Plaintiffs Samantha Kurlander, Nicole Klepper, and Jamaal Brown,” the filing of October 22 states. The rest of the cash will go to thousands of others who interned at NBCU starting on July 3, 2007 in NY and on February 10, 2010 in California. Those interns should expect to get about $500 each if they accept the settlement.
It is now up to Judge Ron Ellis to give the deal the final sign-off. However, being that the U.S. District judge was so open to allowing both sides more time to reach a solid deal, it is unlikely he won’t approve the arrangement.
While others like Fox Searchlight continue to fight the intern lawsuits against them, NBCU took out its checkbook to get the matter out of the way. The parties first met in October last year to try to reach a deal and then again January 16 at the offices of NBCU’s lawyers Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. Last week, plaintiffs’ attorney Justin Swartz of Outten & Golden wrote to Ellis asking for an extension to seal the deal.
Even though the $6.4 million isn’t a lot of money on NBCU’s books, it does set a precedent in a minefield of such suits – so why did NBCU do it? The plaintiffs acknowledge that “further litigation would cause additional expense and delay” and had a lot of risk for them. Something NBCU could wait out. Perhaps the company settled as part of a bigger picture view: Accusations of labor practices abuse is not a good optic heading further into the potentially messy regulatory process of parent Comcast’s $45B acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Perhaps it was to avoid the case getting class action certification, which would have been more expensive to settle in or out of court. Either way, while this handles the matter for NBCU, it opens up the door to a whole new way of handling these allegations that media companies are violating labor laws by having interns do the work of paid employees.
To that end, Outten & Golden have turned intern class actions into a bit of a cottage industry. In addition to the NBCU case, they also rep the ex-interns who took ICM Partners to court, a matter now in mediation. The firm’s Rachel Bien is involved in the Fox Searchlight-Black Swan suit that served as the catalyst for these cases.