Numerous students and fellow interns filed lawsuits in 2011 and 2013 against media conglomerates NBC Universal, Viacom and CBS upon realizing that the hours upon hours of unpaid grunt work being given under the guise of college credit or simply paying your dues to work within the entertainment and media industry without pay is illegal. The lawsuits alleged that these entities employed individuals and improperly classified them as “interns” without providing the required and proper minimum wage compensation. Going further into the suits, additional claims of federal and state labor law violations and failure to provide expected educational training were also made.
Since the filing of these lawsuits, and the subsequent proposed settlements that have been made, many of the interns associated with them are coming forward to express their dissatisfaction with what appears to be an unfair solution. According to recent reports, former interns such as Dina Agusta believe that the settlements reached are unfair and self-serving to the law firms who stand to make millions, while the interns will potentially walk away with only anywhere from $500 to $900 in back pay. According to her calculations, the maximum amount she would receive from the NBC Universal lawsuit is $991.91, which works out to be approximately $2.40/ hour for previous work done for the company.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Most of these actions were filed by law firms as class action lawsuits. A class action lawsuit allows a large amount of people, with a common interest in a matter, to bring suit or be sued as a group. This type of action essentially is brought to hold defendants, or the alleged wrong-doer, accountable for harm and damages that may otherwise go “unchecked.” Certain supporters see value in class action suits though the payout to the injured is most times relatively small. The effect sought is to force wrong-doers to change its actions, products or procedures that caused the lawsuit in the first place.
As noted within previous reports, may law firms come out with a pay day much bigger than the injured party. In furtherance of this sentiment, Dina Agusta stated, “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.”
As most of these settlements have been reached via mediation, and require the approval of the courts before being final, Agusta’s objection to the offered payout may cause this matter to possibly continue to trial if other interns follow her lead and file objections also.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
Federal and state laws mandate minimum wage pay for employees. On the federal level, the Federal Labor Standards Act establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State and local governments. Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Overtime pay at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek.
The recent string of lawsuits against companies offering non-paid internships has caused many of these entities to change their procedures, no longer offering unpaid opportunities for those seeking to get their foot in the door in media and entertainment. If you are seeking an internship, please be aware of your rights. They should be paid opportunities or meet the requirements for college credit. As reported on Unpaid Intern Lawsuit, “an unpaid internship is only lawful in the context of an educational training program, when the interns do not perform productive work and the employer derives no benefit. ‘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.’”
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.