Interns Sue Over Poorly Paid Jobs At Less Than $1 An Hour

Poorly paid interns will sue Condé Nast for paying them less than $1 an hour. The filing was announced Thursday in the aftermath of the Black Swan win for unpaid interns on Tuesday.

In the Black Swan case, two unpaid interns on the set of the Fox Searchlight Oscar winner went to court to argue that they should have been paid. The film company disagreed, arguing at least in part that Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman were compensated by receiving references and network opportunities instead of pay.

Judge William Paley agreed with the interns, ruling that 20th Century Fox violated New York’s state labor laws:

“Searchlight received the benefits of their unpaid work, which otherwise would have required paid employees…Resume listings and job references result from any work relationship, paid or unpaid…Glatt and Footman performed routine tasks that would otherwise have been performed by regular employees.”

In other words, the film’s producers were just using the so-called interns to get out of paying a fair wage.

Encouraged by the ruling, Condé Nast interns Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib filed their complain in Manhattan on Thursday. Condé Nast has said that they won’t comment on pending legislation.

But Leib claimed that he was paid $300-500 for each summer he worked — far below the legal minimum wage.

According to the New York Times, there are around half a million unpaid internships in the United States by college students each year — and another roughly half a million that are very poorly paid.

Black Swan winner Glatt told the NYT that he was thrilled with Tuesday’s court ruling:

“I hope that this sends a very loud and clear message to employers and to students doing these internships, and to the colleges that are cooperating in creating this large pool of free labor — for most for-profit employers, this is illegal.”


Some observers have another problem with unpaid internships. Clearly, if you have to have an unpaid or poorly paid internship on your resumé to get hired for a desirable position, then employers have a deniable way to discriminate against people who come from disadvantaged groups.

Rich students from well-connected backgrounds have a leg up. The fact that they can afford to work for nothing gives them an unfair advantage over people who can’t.

But that advantage could be wiped out if employers have to pay everyone who works at least the legal minimum wage.

What’s your take on unpaid and poorly paid internships? Do you agree that the interns should sue?

[intern photo by racorn via Shutterstock]