If the media behemoth thought this was all behind it, Dina Agusta just hit a possible pause button on the end to the nearly two-year legal action. The former NBCUniversal intern believes the $6.4 million settlement deal that the Comcast-owned company made with class counsel Outten & Golden in October not only is too little for everyone but actually might put plaintiffs in a bad spot with the IRS with multiple employee classifications. “What amazes me is that a corporation with the prestige of NBCUniversal would stoop to this level and a law firm that holds itself out as experienced in workplace matters lacks some basic understanding of the IRS regulations (or worse, a complete disregard for same),” she says in a letter to Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis late last week (read it here).
“I respectfully request that this court find that the proposed Settlement is unfair and inadequate,” Agusta adds to the court in her March 14 letter rejecting the agreement announced on October 22, 2014.
“I would be willing to risk the low ball offer and go to trial on this matter,” the ex-NBCU intern makes very bluntly clear. “This is especially true since I have no obligation to pay my counsel or the other costs of litigation in a class action suit. I wonder how many other class members when presented with this analysis would concur with my reasoning.”
The NYC-based Ellis had given preliminary approval to the deal on December 15 and has set a May 4 hearing for the final approval. That might have to be reconsidered now. Another much-smaller bump in the case came today when Ellis approved a March 16 request from the law firm to extend the claims deadline. Outten & Golden wanted and got another 45 days for 243 class members who were left off the notice lists and two weeks to March 31 for the thousands of others in the action to get their claims in.
The case was filed in July 2013 by ex-Saturday Night Live intern Monet Eliastam and ex-MSNBC intern Jesse Moore, who later withdrew from the case. Last fall’s proposed settlement saw Eliastam set to get $10,000 while the majority of the thousands of others in the class would get about $500 each if they signed off on the deal. With about $1.4 million going to the law firm, which specializes in labor issues, the deal covers those who interned at NBCU starting on July 3, 2007, in NY State and on February 10, 2010, in California. With advice from her lawyer father, Agusta reckons her two internships with the company would score her “a maximum of $991.91 provided no more than 8,975 members submit claims.”
Because that works out to about $2.40 an hour for the 416 total hours she says she worked for NBCU, Agusta obviously is not going for it – and calls out the potentially well-compensated Outten & Golden. “If my counsel believes ‘this Settlement is fair and appropriate under the circumstances, and in the best interests of the Class Members’ especially given the fact my counsel believes our ‘claims … are strong’ and counsel was ‘… prepared to proceed with litigating the case…,’ then I say it is time to change counsel.”
Outten & Golden represented a duo of former ICM Partners interns in their legal battle with the agency. That matter was settled in mediation in December. The firm also is working on the groundbreaking and ongoing case of the ex-Black Swan interns and their class action against Fox Searchlight — the case that started the various intern cases that have hit media companies in recent years. With Agusta’s objection, the NBCU case could become ongoing again too, if more class members follow her lead.
NBCU are represented in the case by Sam Scott Shaulson and Russell Bruch of the NYC and DC offices of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. Bet they thought this was all over too.
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