'Black Swan' Unpaid Interns Sue Fox Searchlight

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on November 17, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You could call it Revenge of the Interns: Two former Black Swan interns are suing the film's production company for violating state and federal labor laws.

It's the first lawsuit to challenge the practice of unpaid internships in more than 50 years, NPR reports.

The effects could be far-reaching, especially for in-house lawyers whose companies use interns, but do not pay them for their work.

The Black Swan interns -- Alex Footman, 24, and Eric Glatt, 42 -- want others to join their class action fight against Fox Searchlight Pictures. Fox used more than 100 unpaid interns for Black Swan alone, they say.

Footman complains he had to fetch coffee and take out the trash when he worked behind the scenes on Black Swan.

Glatt left his job at a financial-services firm to do accounting work for the film, hoping for his big break in Hollywood.

Both Black Swan interns say their unpaid experience was less than stellar. Their lawsuit alleges Fox Searchlight failed to meet federal standards for unpaid internships.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld unpaid internships, but only for training purposes. The Labor Department last year issued new guidelines for unpaid internships, which state:

  • The internship must be similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.
  • The internship must be for the intern's benefit.
  • The intern cannot displace regular employees.
  • The employer cannot derive immediate advantage from the intern's activities.
  • All parties understand the internship may not result in a job.
  • All parties understand the internship will be unpaid.

In a statement, Fox Searchlight told NPR it complied with all labor laws, and that unpaid internships provide valuable real-world experience.

While that may be true, in-house counsel should keep their eyes focused on the Black Swan intern lawsuit -- to make sure their company complies with the law when it comes to unpaid interns.

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