WASHINGTON – Unpaid internships have long been a path of opportunity for students and recent grads looking to get a foot in the door in the entertainment, publishing and other prominent industries, even if it takes a generous subsidy from Mom and Dad.
But those days of working for free could be numbered after a federal judge in New York ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.”
The decision by U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III may lead some companies to rethink whether it’s worth the legal risk to hire interns to work without pay.
There are up to 1 million unpaid internships offered in the United States every year, said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank. He said the number of internships has grown as the economy tumbled and he blamed them for exploiting young workers and driving down wages.
Chris Petrikin, a spokesman for 20th Century Fox, said the company plans to appeal. Fox had argued that the interns received a greater benefit than the company in the form of job references, résumé listings and experience working at a production office.