Fox Settles ‘Black Swan’ Interns Lawsuit After Five Years

Fox Searchlight

After a half-decade of fighting the Black Swan interns lawsuit, Fox said today that it has reached a settlement in the case that changed Hollywood. The deal puts the studio in the company of NBCUniversal, Lionsgate, Viacom and ICM Partners among those that have opted to settle such complaints rather than go to trial.

“On July 8, 2016, the Plaintiffs Eric Glatt, Alexander Footman, Eden Antalik, and Kanene Gratts and Defendants Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc. and Fox Entertainment Group, Inc., by their respective counsel of record, filed with this Court a Settlement Stipulation,” said the proposed settlement order today (read it here)

If approved, the settlement would see all those who interned at Fox Entertainment Group, Fox Filmed Entertainment, Fox Networks Group and Fox Interactive Media in the first nine months of 2010 and those who had the unpaid gig at the NYC offices of said Fox entities from 2005-10 get about $495 each. Original plaintiffs Eric Glatt and Alex Footman would get $7,500 and $6,000 and Eden Antalik — who joined the case when an amended complaint was filed in late 2012 — would receive $3,500.

And as always in these things, the lawyers will come out well. The Outten & Golden firm, which repped the plaintiffs, looks to bank about $220,000 in fees and administration services.

Despite twists and turns, the suit, which has been ongoing since 2011, was an industry game-changer in an ear where the term is too often overused.  “The Glatt action, involving claims brought on behalf of unpaid interns, was among the first to be brought nationwide and began an important discussion about the legality of unpaid internships at private employers, notes a memorandum of law in support of the Black Swan settlement today. “After several years of hard-fought litigation, including an appeal to the Second Circuit, the parties have reached a proposed agreement to resolve the claims on a classwide basis.”

The original lawsuit against Fox Searchlight set the stage for a slew of intern class actions and settlements against media companies based on claims that the interns were doing what should be classified as paid work. Fox Searchlight won the right to appeal former Black Swan interns Footman and Glatt’s case in November 2013, after a game-changing ruling in June of that year that the unpaid interns on the 201o Oscar winning film were really employees under the definitions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.

Footman and Glatt’s class action was on behalf of themselves and more than 100 Fox Searchlight interns. They sought back pay from the Fox specialty label for work they believe they should have been paid for. The studio eventually fired back that the two were never actually Fox Searchlight interns, arguing that the duo actually worked for Aronofsky’s production company. In August 2012, the plaintiffs attempted to expand the scope of their suit to include all interns who participated in Fox Entertainment Group’s internship program.

Anxiety over where the Black Swan case could go was one reason why a number of actions against entertainment and media companies recently  have resulted in settlements. Trying to get its legal house in order, Hollywood also has seen studios and agencies turn their internship programs into paid positions – moves that mean there are far fewer intern spot available for those looking to break into the industry.

Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.

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