An advertisement for an unpaid internship that came through the Casting Society of America seems to go against federal labor laws, especially against the backdrop of a class action lawsuit winding its way through the court system over the case of two former interns that were treated as employees during their work on Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan. Here is the advertisement, confirmed by the CSA, that came through its website via the Sheila Jaffe casting agency:
Busy casting office in Los Angeles looking for a very organized intern to start immediately. Basic administrative duties such as heavy phones, scheduling appointments, running errands and typing. Reading / breakdown of scripts. Assisting department with sessions. Must be MAC efficient and able multi task with ease. Previous experience, knowledge of iMovie and editing video is ideal. UNPAID internship. WHEN APPLYING PLEASE INCLUDE “INTERN” IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF THE EMAIL. Please send resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Federal and state labor laws specifically state that “If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled to compensation under the FLSA.” FLSA is the Fair Labor Standards Act. When the Sheila Jaffe office was called by Deadline about the advertisement, one of the casting agents said, “Yeah, I know about that.” When I told them that this might run afoul of labor laws, she said, “The thing is, once we bring them in … hold on just a moment … uh, we can’t make a comment on this. We’re probably not going to look for them. So it’s probably not going to go any further.” Oops!
It’s been over two years since what is known as the Black Swan case was filed in September 2011 and over six months since the last ruling on what is now a class action, which began with questions about whether former interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt should have been paid for their work as unpaid interns on the 2010 Oscar-nominated best picture. Federal law is very clear on this: Unpaid interns cannot perform work that is a benefit to the company. The duties in the above ad clearly runs afoul of that. Labor law also requires that unpaid interns get school credit.
After losing the Black Swan case initially, Fox has appealed the ruling and is awaiting word from the Second Circuit Court. Regardless, the case has changed practices behind the scenes and productions and companies are usually very careful now in hiring unpaid interns.