A handful of high-profile legal disputes are shining a bright light on an often-ignored issue: Should employers be required to pay interns at least the minimum wage?
Case 1: Last fall, a pair of interns sued the producer of the Oscar-winning film “Black Swan” for minimum wage and overtime. They claimed their work didn’t provide them with the kind of “educational experience” that exempts their tasks from wage-and-hour laws. Now they’re seeking class-action status for more than 100 unpaid interns who worked on Fox Searchlight movies.
Case 2: In February, a former intern at Harper’s Bazaar magazine filed suit in federal court, saying she should have been paid for her five months coordinating deliveries, filing expense reports and helping with photo shoots.
Both cases are drawing attention to the topic—and sparking questions in the minds of other interns. Just in the past year, at least three books have spoken out about injustices in the internship world. One book, Intern Nation by Ross Perlin, estimates that internships save U.S. organizations about $600 million every year.
Adding to the attention is a 2010 fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor that says “internships in the for-profit private sector will most often be viewed as employment … and must be paid at least the minimum wage.” That is, unless the internship meets a six-criteria test to determine if the “educational exemption” applies.